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He took a step toward her and uncertainty began to flicker in Mel's eyes. Still, she didn't back down, she couldn't. She widened her stance and crossed her arms self consciously, eyes boring into the boy's.
Hands dropped onto her shoulders and gently pushed her away.
“John,” she breathed, half grateful and half annoyed.
“Yeah, John,” the boy side stepped him, “this doesn't concern you.”
John stepped back in front of him, pushing Mel back a little more forcefully. “This does concern me.” He had no qualms about getting in the other boy's face and the boy took half a step back unconsciously.
“Mel is in my charge. You've insulted her, you've hurt her. And when you hurt her, you hurt me. You've hurt me, George.” John closed the short distance between them again and stared him down. They were about the same height, yet John was by far more muscular, and he flexed his arms now in challenge.
Clara came up beside Mel and gripped her arm, staring fearfully at her brother and George. George turned away, but when he saw the comradiness between Mel and Clara, his eyes narrowed. Suddenly, he turned back and punched John in the face.
John reacted instantly, throwing himself at George and knocking him down.
Clara gripped Mel harder and they gasped at John's ferocity. “I'm got to get mother,” Clara whispered and ran off, leaving Mel to watch the fight.
She returned with her mother and sister a few minutes later. Mel was standing in the same spot, wringing her hands in front of her and on the verge of tears. Before the three pushed through the crowd, John pinned George flat on his back.
“Apologize,” he growled.
George struggled for a moment longer then went limp. He turned his head vaguely in Mel's direction and said, between clenched teeth, “I apologize.”
John jabbed his rid cage and grunted, pulling him self off of him. George lay where he'd been pinned, clutching his stomach.
Not seeing his family, he turned to me first and smiled triumphantly.
“Your honor is restored.”
Mel nodded, not knowing what to say. She examined his face carefully, noting the bruised cheek, pleased that George hadn't given him a black eye. Then, noticing his arm, she gasped.
“Your arm's bleeding.”
He turned his eyes reluctantly from her face and examined his arm with an air of detachment.
“John!” Mary emerged from the crowd and rushed to her brother, Clara and their mother right behind her.
“What did you do?” she shot at Mel and pulled John's head down to examine his bruise.
“It wasn't Mel. That scumbag, George, challenged her honor.”
Mel blushed, both because of John's language and because their gazes all fell of her now: John's tenderly, Clara's understandingly, Mary's accusingly, and their mother's curiously.
“And she was put in your charge, so you fought for her. That's my boy.” His mother reached up to pat his check and he winced, realizing she had cleaning salve in her palm.
John opened his mouth to protest, but a troop chose then to begin playing. He closed his eyes and began humming. Mel closed her eyes, too, and strained to hear him, guessing that this was the song he was always humming.
When she opened her eyes again, John was staring at her. His mother and sisters were bent over his arm, applying their salve. He brushed them gently aside and held out his hand.
“John!” The four of them cried as one, worried.
“Mel?” John whined, dropping his hand and frowning at her. He gave a short, strained laugh. “You're beginning to sound like my mother.”
Mel gasped in surprise, then looked at his mother and smiled slightly. She reached for the older woman's hand and smeared some of the salve on her palm, then reached for his arm. John caught her wrist and held it away.
“I order you to dance with me.” She lowered her gazed and he gently put a finger under her chin and raised her head. “I don't like ordering you, Mel. Please dance with me.” These last words were spoken so pleadingly that Mel's heart broke and she blushed and she looked down again.
His mother, pleased at their exchange, didn't stop John as he wiped Mel's palm on his pants and pulled her to the courtyard. Others young couples were already dancing and they welcomed the two as if Mel weren't a prisoner and John, her captor, hadn't just gotten in a fight over her.
Mel was limp at first, protesting that she didn't now the steps, but she soon caught John's excitement. John quickly pulled her away from the group dance. He bid her to stand on his feet and let him do the dancing, but Mel scoffed at the idea.
By the end of the long song, they'd spun themselves into a corner of the courtyard. Mel looked up into John's face and laughed. He searched her face hurriedly, then suddenly bent down and kissed her.
Mel's eyes grew big and she pushed him away. John back up and squeezed her hands, holding on to them when she tried to pull away.
“I thought you were my protector,” she whispered angrily, glaring at him wearily.
“But I am.” He pronounced each word carefully and his voice rose. Mel's eyes sank to the ground and her hands shook. John glanced behind himself and saw people glancing at them. He thought he saw his family inching worriedly toward them; he had to act quickly.
John placed his finger gently on Mel's cheek, not raising her head, he just stroked it. Mel's breath caught and John steadied his own breath to make sure his tone would be softened.
“You know I am. I would even protect you from me. Tell me you never want be to kiss you again and I won't. Tell me you hate me now and I'll walk away, I'll let you escape.”
Mel bit her lip and glanced up uncertainly. When she saw his face, tender and pleading, her lips parted slightly. John bent down till their noses were touching, never taking his eyes off of hers.
His lips met hers slowly and he kissed her gently, hands held away and eyes watching her carefully, giving her time to think. When he pulled away her mind was already made up. She thrust her head out quickly, capturing his lips in hers before he pulled away completely.
John, surprised at her attack at his lips, closed his eyes and smiled. He pressed hard against her and Mel stumbled back a step. She tried to throw her arms around his shoulders to get better purchase, but she wasn't tall enough.
John placed his arms tightly around her and picked her up effortlessly, setting her on the low wall behind her. She leaned into him heavily, wanting to be as close to him and as she could, but also knowing that she was as step away from falling. John squeezed the arm around her waist and trapped her face with a hand; she knew he wouldn't let her fall.
They stayed that way for several minutes before noticing that the music had stopped and that John's mother was calling to them.
“John!” Mel pushed his face away and he turned reluctantly away from her. He stiffened slightly, pulling Mel closer, when he saw the look on his mother's face; not pleased as he thought it would be, but disapproving. Then he looked around at the other's and realized what it would look like to him.
“Bring her!” His mother called as their driver pulled up with their carriage.
Mel put a hand on his shoulder to steady herself for the drop down, used to the acting quickly to his mother's commands.
John picked her up and cradled her gently, thriving in her surprised laughter, and hurried through the crowd. Mel gazed up at his face and remembered the other times he'd carried her, when he'd first captured her and during her long period on mourning. Except now, seeing the blatant love in his eyes when he glanced down at her, for the first time, she didn't feel trapped.