Visibly gulping in several large breaths, Jack nervously used one of his free hands to play with a few strands of his pale hair. “If...if you won’t come back with me then my heart will break and shatter. If I can’t live my life with you, there is no point in existing any longer.”
I frowned, starting to speak up about how ridiculous that sounded, but Jack’s tense voice and expression stopped me. “I know what you’re going to say, Nisha. But, remember, I’m not human.”
With his free hand, Jack listlessly motioned toward all the ice around us. “To a human, such a thing might seem extreme, but for we Others, it’s pretty normal. We are, first and foremost, creatures of desire.”
He paused, clearing his throat and stopping his fiddling hand. His pale gaze nervously lifted up to look me in the eyes. “I don’t mean that in a wholly sexual manner either. Don’t get me wrong,” he quickly amended, looking awkward.
“Others are definitely pretty obsessed with the pleasures of the flesh. There’s no doubt about that. But that doesn’t apply in only sexual settings. That includes desires for pain, food, comfort, and sleep. All of us are different. But you can bet that at our core, every one of us has some sort of selfish reason hidden away.”
He flashed a brief, teeth-filled smile. “For me, I’ve wanted an end to the tragic insanity that became my existence for the last five thousand years I’ve lived since being cursed. I thought, as humans often do, that love would be the answer. I tried, many times, to fall in love. More than a few times I thought I’d achieved it and perhaps I did. But, honestly, if you’re the only one in love things quickly turn depressing.”
Shifting on his feet awkwardly, Jack let out a heavy sigh. His skin and hair looked like a bit of the color was returning, slowly. “The moment I saw you though….” His expression twisted in excruciating pain. “I realized how naive I was to have thought anything before this was love.”
I winced, my sympathy spiking to life at the torment cutting across Jack’s face as he stared at me in aching pain.
His body stiffened briefly as if he was taken aback before a chagrin frown replaced the pain of his expression. “What I’m trying to say is that if you tell me that you won’t allow me to be a part of your life, then I can’t keep going.”
I shivered in my clothes, hugging myself tight. Contemplating on what words to say, I eventually decided that nothing I said would be the correct answer. All I could do was keep digging for more information. “What would happen if I said I was okay with you being in my life, but I didn’t want to return to the Other Realm?”
There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation on Jack’s face as he stared at me directly, his words firm. “I would drop everything to be with you.”
“...Even your position?” I asked quietly, more than a little shocked. From my childhood memories of the Other Realm, this was a very big deal Jack was just promising to toss aside.
“A, are you serious?” I gasped, shaken.
Smiling faintly, Jack nodded his head once in affirmation. “Deadly,” he gazed at me calmly. His hair was starting to shorten as well; evidence that bit by bit his emotions were beginning to stabilize.
“What do I care about anyone else but for you and our family? The Frosts? Those are merely strangers who share my blood. You hold my heart and soul, jhenmu. If you said you wanted me to help you live on the moon, nothing would stop me from moving heaven and earth to achieve that goal.”
I sucked in a sharp breath, feeling my heart begin to ache painfully at Jack’s words. “Jack,” I whispered faintly, trying to hold back the prick of hot tears in my eyes.
“Now, as for what would happen if I abandoned my duty as Duke of Winter? I imagine chaos would ensue. The colder parts of Earth would be thrown completely out of whack and this would affect the rest of Earth as well. Even if Jacob or his future son took over, they wouldn’t be as powerful. Unfortunately, I imagine immense power would be needed to stabilize the world after an event like that. Essentially, if I tossed everything aside to be with you, I’d be giving the rest of the world the middle finger with all caps on.”
Jack’s serious face was broken apart by a heart-meltingly warm smile. “But it would be worth it, so I wouldn’t have any regrets.”
Unable to find any way to respond to Jack’s continuous confessions of love, I nodded weakly. “Then...what if I do agree to go back with you?”
Jack was quiet for another three minutes, eyes closed in thought. While I waited for his response, I watched the ice at the ceiling and walls slowly start to retreat down. It was only by about half a centimeter every ten seconds, but progress was still progress.
“If you agree to go back,” Jack softly began, “then you’ll have to accept becoming the Duchess.”
I closed my eyes tightly at those words.
The Duchess of Winter.
Memories of a regal woman with dark auburn hair cut close to her head, pretty hazel eyes, with a complexion that was slightly paler than normal for a human, flooded to the surface. ...Then there was her permanently cold gaze and the slight frown I’d believed she’d been born with as a child. These were the things that instantly came to mind with the words ‘Duchess of Winter’.
The closest thing to a mother I’d had as a child, minus Nana.
Lacking a mother growing up, I’d been quite attached to Glacia, though she’d always treated me with a faint air of disdain. As a kid though, I hadn’t thought to think too deeply as to why Duchess Frost had been so cold toward me. Perhaps some part of my mind had simply shied away from thinking too deeply based on survival instincts alone.
“Me, Duchess of Winter?” I choked out, feeling terrified just thinking about it.
Jack nodded, smiling bitterly. “Yep. You’ll have to act like a proper duchess. That’ll mean hosting tea parties and balls, going to charity events, having business meetings disguised as dinners, and also keeping up with the Frost family’s household. But!”
Jack paused, nodding bitterly at my disgusted expression caused by his earlier words. “You have two options, as far as your relationship with me will go on this route. For both options, we begin behaving like a normal married couple, holding a formal wedding at some point. This will include a maximum of a year and a half time period for us to get used to being parents. That time would also be for you to prepare yourself emotionally and accept having a physical relationship with me. All in order to ensure my Heir is born, of course.”
I gulped, eyes bulging in disbelief at Jack’s thoroughly honest approach. My breath hissed through my teeth in shock, but Jack wasn’t finished.
“If—though the thought of it makes my heart and male pride hurt just thinking about it—you absolutely cannot accept a physical relationship with me. If the very,” he paused momentarily, face scrunched up in distaste.
“If the terror and disgust you feel for me are so bad that you can’t be attracted to me then I will do my best to accommodate you. Again, a year and a half maximum time period. But at the end of that time, we’ll come back to the Human World and seek out an….”
He sucked in a sharp breath, which seemed to absorb some of the ice into his lungs. “We'll get artificial insemination done, okay?” He burst out in one large rush.
Freezing in place, I stared at Jack, stunned.
What did this crazy man just say?
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, as if afraid of even seeing the words he’d just spoken. At his side, his partially human hands were shaking horribly.
Seeing how upset he was becoming weirdly helped me feel better. I suppose relief that I wasn’t the only one experiencing an overwhelming feeling of awkwardness was a better way to explain this feeling. Still….
“Jack, you’re insane,” I muttered, shaking my head slowly.
He peeked out, only one eye opened cautiously. “That’s all you have to say?”
“What else do you want me to say? I’m grateful that you’re, um, thinking about me. But at the same time, this whole situation is just crazy.”
He frowned deeply, confused. “Is it? I thought I explained everything clearly though. Everything else is your choice from here on. But, as I said earlier, I can only give you a week to decide.”
Biting my lip, I grew quiet at that cold reminder.
Right. Just one week to come up with an answer to a life-changing decision.
“Now that we’ve gotten that heavy conversation out of the way, we need to switch to a new one.”
Before I could completely calm down from the previous nail-bitter of a topic, Jack threw another curveball straight into my face.
“The bast—! The guy. ...Did you love him?”