Archive for December, 2012

Writing Prompt: Anxiety

Having a lazy day folks, mostly working on random bits of nothing and hunting for stories to critique on Scribophile. I’m Alis Barr on there too, come find me. Anyway, I pulled today’s prompt from some random link WordPress offers.

Prompt: Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

My youngest child entered the world in the midst of a whirlwind of turmoil. At eighteen years old I found myself facing the prospect of being a single mother, frightened and completely unprepared despite the fact that I already played at being mommy-dearest to my older son. When I first held E, he was perfect. This tiny little bundle made of velvet skin and hunger and love that burned like the sun. I had forgotten the way a newborn felt, their solid weight cased in liquid limbs that seemed to have been poured into blankets and dolloped into teensy mittens and shaped to fit the shirt that fit too loosely on his long body. I was lost in his perfection, blinded to the aches of my own body that had so recently been a vessel for such a precious gift. I vowed then and there that I would love him and protect him from ever being hurt by anyone. And then the nurses came. 

Why are his fingers and toes still purple?

Look at that, he has some jaundice.

Listen to him breathe…that’s not right. 

And they took him away. My infant child left the safe cradle of my arms and wheeled down the longest hallway in the world to the Continuous Care Nursery. I was left alone, to sit in my worry, feeling like the walls were closing in around me. Fear, hot and paralyzing, crushed the air from my lungs. What had I done? He was healthy, nine pounds of wailing baby, angry at the world for displacing him from my womb. So why was he not with me? I fretted until I was allowed to see him, and suddenly he was very small, laying there surrounded by wires and monitors that sounded an alarm every time his oxygen levels dropped. That alarm sounded in my nightmares for weeks, even after I brought him home, where he was safe. Five days I stayed, allowed by doctors but not by my own conscience to leave his side. He nursed and slept and cried, all alone in that little box of light. My baby angel, lit by the blue glow of a blanket meant to warm him and heal his sickly yellow skin. For every tear I shed, a piece of my anxiety drifted down my cheeks with it, leaving only a smooth ball of calm resolution in the pit of my stomach. And though the next six months were a blur of doctors and needles and worry, I never forgot the promise I made to him the first time I held my baby, to protect him. 

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Because I’m an attention whore, read this. 

I watched the party from the shadows. Always from the shadows now. They were my home, though I could hardly call my cloak of darkness new. Inside the pool of light men and women that had once been my peers danced and laughed. Gaily colored silk skirts fluttered in time to the rousing music and tapping of the mens’ shoes, and I drank in the human noise of laughter and clinking glassware. Closing my ruby eyes, I breathed in deeply, fighting the iron hunger in my stomach that the scent of their blood always brought. In the ten years since my passing I had gained control of my monstrous nature, though I still found more struggle than my maker, who seemed to glide effortlessly through our very unnatural life.

“You know it gives you fits to watch them, Sweet.” a familiar voice floated to my ear on a cool breath at the nape of my neck and rough fingers stroking my brunette curls, held fashionably in place by pins and ribbons. If I was in a dour mood before this unexpected visitor, it was certainly not improved with his sudden appearance.

“I’ll not have your hands on me, Jack McCray! You will ruin my hair.” I said evenly through my teeth, ducking away from his attention and turning round, only to nearly hit the solid wall of his body. In death he retained the fit frame of his enlisted youth, good looks and charm and strength brawny enough to make me feel like a child beside him, immortalized forever. Pursing my lips, I gathered the skirt of my dress and slipped past him, ignoring the cocky smirk on his handsome face.

“Where would you rather I put my hands then, darlin’?” he asked as he followed, and I felt my back stiffen in offence. Whirling, I lifted a hand to slap him, only to have his fingers close round my wrist in an iron grasp, though he didn’t hurt me. Instead, I found my back against one of the stone pillars that supported the covered veranda we stood on, and Jack’s tall body entirely too close to mine for my own personal comfort. “I wouldn’t, if I were you.” he murmured huskily, releasing my wrist and stroking back a stray tendril of my hair. If my heart had been beating I’m certain it would have fluttered, but it wasn’t, and I forced my interest away in favor of scowling up at him. “I’d ask why you insist on torturing yourself by watching them, but I know already.”

“And I supposed your great knowledge tells you why the sun rises and sets as well?” I replied wryly, desperately wanting to steer the subject away from my own pain. Casually, he rested an arm on the pillar above my head, bringing us within kissing distance, and for a moment I thought he would do just that. Instead, he studied me, dark eyes tracing a line from the grown of my hair, to my eyes and nose, down to the curve of my lips, to the gentle path of my throat down the valley of my breasts. He spent none of his usual crude amount of time ogling my substantial bosom before returning to my face.

“You can’t fool yourself any longer, Mateline.” he said quietly. “That life is behind you now. Far behind you. It will only end in pain if you keep skulking about the edges of their light. We are the dark, now.”

“Do not…lump me in, with you!” I pressed my lips together and looked away in distaste. One of his rough hands cupped my jaw, and forcibly turned me back to meet his blazing eyes.

“Oh that’s right, you fancy yourself a lady!” he practically sneered. “D’you think you’re above the monsters like me? Just because you take blood from- from painters and musicians and the like, you think you’re better than me and the prostitutes I take?” I blushed at the blunt truth of his words, and bit back a yelp of protest when he forced his mouth down on mine. His tongue snaked into my mouth, and a shudder took me as I tasted the fresh blood he still carried. Ashamed, I kissed him back, parting my lips willingly and feeling- savoring- the hard crush of his body on mine, demanding that I yield. My thighs were parted by one of his, rubbing crudely against my core, and with this rude intrusion came the return of my sense as well.

Shoving him back, I slapped his cheek and hissed “Don’t you ever touch me again!” As I stalked off, half driven to tears and fury, I heard his mocking laughter float through the air behind me.

“My whores taste the same as your nobles, Sweet, the sooner you realize that the better!” he called softly after me, and I was grateful that he made no move to come after me.

In the villa by the river, which I shared with my maker and a handful of mortal servants, I swept through the door to my chambers in a fit. Curtly dismissing my maid Analise, I yanked at the laces of my dress, sweeping through them like tissue paper in my anger. I was left with the shreds of my ruined dress between my trembling fingers, and as the tears came I let them fall freely down my cheeks, sobbing unashamedly and burying my face against the torn silk. After a moment, cool hands cupped my shoulders, turning me into the chest of my maker, Gaston.

“What has upset you so, my lamb?” he inquired gently, and I turned tearful eyes into his delicately featured face.

“That wretched man Jack McCray!”

“Oh, come now, what has he done this time?”

“He kissed me without permission Papa, and he said- he said some very hurtful things.” I replied. Gaston nodded, taking my dress and tossing it aside before setting me down in front of my vanity and beginning to unpin my hair. It was a soothing routine between the two of us, though our closeness was odd among our own kind. I knew he had made another before me, and lost him, and I think it was the reason he doted on me so. “I suppose that’s not entirely fair.” I muttered morosely after a moment of silence. “It was not his words that stung so much as the truth behind them.”

“That is often the case with dear Jack.” Gaston replied calmly, setting aside the last ribbon and picking up my favorite brush to begin working through my hair in long, measured strokes. “He’s a very perceptive lad. Again with the issue of your taste in blood?” I nodded, and heard him chuckle behind me. Though it made me want to scowl, I resisted, trying hard not to sound petulant as I protested, turning around in my seat to look up at him.

“I do not choose artists out of disdain! I love what their blood brings me. There’s nothing compared to drinking from a high musician and spending the rest of the evening lost in the notes of symphony.” I said, a faint smile touching my face as I remembered so many warm evenings spent in just that manner. “It is hardly my fault that a simpleton like Jack McCray can’t appreciate such pleasure.” That made Gaston laugh out loud, and he cupped my face, smiling down at me.

“Oh lamb, you do bring me such joy.” he said. “Try not to let Jack upset you. I will speak with his maker tomorrow evening at the soiree our dear friend Delilah is having. She returned to our city this past night, and wishes to greet her old friends.” I smiled, as Delilah was a favorite of mine despite being well over a hundred years old, and nodded. Putting the evening’s events out of mind, I stood and kissed his cheek, bidding him a restful day’s sleep before finally allowing my maid to help me into my evening gown in preparation for the coming dawn.

The next evening found me in my best silk gown, an affair done in shades of cream and pink that complimented my figure quite nicely. In the years since my turning I had only seen Delilah a handful of times, but she still greeted me warmly, taking my hands in hers and kissing each of my cheeks.

“Darling girl! It has been too long!” she cooed. “If I get a moment of time you must tell me all about the latest news and fashions.” Smiling graciously, I nodded, and we moved on into the small gathering of our kin that had come to her lavish mansion. Gaston soon pardoned himself to go and stand by the fire with the other men, lighting a pipe and smoothly joining whatever mechanical conversation they were having. That left me to the womenfolk, and I was soon immersed in talk of silk merchants and gossip until it was time for the dancing to start. At that point I drifted to the row of plush chairs along the wall, dropping neatly into one and sitting with my back straight like mother had taught me, fanning myself lightly. Barely a beat went past before a handsome man blocked my view of the floor. Tall and well formed, he kept his suit immaculate as well as his pale blond hair, tied back loosely. Bowing formally, he gave me a charming smile along with his introduction.

“Pardon the intrusion, but you are far too lovely to remain seated. My name is Colin Cromwell, may I have the pleasure of this dance?” Flattered, I gave him my hand and stood, fighting back a girlish blush as he pressed his lips ever so briefly against my knuckles.

“You may.” I replied, joining him on the polished marble floor where other couples were waltzing. Placing a hand on one of his shoulders, I allowed him to cup my other hand in his, and followed his lead gracefully. “Gracious, where are my manners. I am Mateline DeLuc, present with my maker, Gaston Echarpe.” Colin smiled again, showing off a delightful set of dimples in his cheeks, and inclined his head to my maker over my shoulder.

“Truly, your maker shows excellent taste. Am I wrong in guessing your country of origin is France? My mistress Delilah and I were recently there on holiday. Lovely place, if I do say so myself.” For the rest of the song we were immersed in quiet conversation, and it wasn’t until the middle of our second dance that I finally realized what had been bothering me. We were being watched. In the process of my natural movements I happened to meet a familiar set of eyes, and found Jack positively glowering at Colin! Now what was that about? Dismissing it, I focused on my enchanting partner, determined not to let Jack ruin a good thing. At the end of the dance I begged pardon from a third, claiming pain in my feet, and Colin, delightfully mannered as he was, escorted me to a chair along the side and left with another gentle kiss to the back of my hand. Almost immediately he was snatched up eagerly by one of the other young ladies in attendance, and I was pleased to see that though he was polite, he showed her none of the special interest he’d taken in me. Abruptly, my glowing mood was halted though, as Jack appeared in front of me.

“Have a word with me.” he said tersely, and I frowned lightly at him.

“Not with that tone I won’t!” I sniffed, folding my arms and looking away. There was the distinct sound of him grinding his teeth, and a short sigh escaped him.

“Very well then.” he said. “May I request a short walk in the garden with you…please?”

“That’s better.” I replied, standing and accepting his arm in order to escort me outside. The night was warm, pressing intimately against my skin almost like a living thing, and I breathed in the perfume of Delilah’s garden with a smile as we walked among the rose bushes and carefully groomed flowers. For awhile Jack didn’t say anything, until we were far back among the shadows. There, he turned me to face him, and I gave him an expectant look.

“I apologize.” he said bluntly, and my brows raised in surprise. Jack McCray apologized to no one! Yet here he was, with a distinctly reluctant look on his face, like a child that had been told off. Which, in light of my maker’s words last night, the comparison was not all that far from the truth if Gaston had kept his word. “My actions last night were rude. I was right…but I probably could have found a better way to tell you so.” A short burst of laughter startled out of me, and I shook my head a little.

“I don’t think you have it in you to admit you were wrong, so I’ll take your apology at it’s best intention.” I said. “Thank you. But was it necessary to haul me all the way out here to tell me?” Still in a good mood from Colin’s conversation, I couldn’t resist teasing Jack a little. “Or were you simply trying to keep me from accepting another dance with my new friend Colin?” His expression went dark again, and I saw his shoulders stiffen at the same time as a surprising revelation struck me. “Jack…are you jealous?”

“Of that self important twat?” he snorted derisively. “Hardly!” Ignoring his language, I rolled my eyes at him and placed my hands on my hips.

“Then why were you glaring a hole in the back of his head?”

“Because a blond pretty boy like that wouldn’t know what to do with a woman like you.” he replied, sarcasm creeping into his tone as he added “And I just hate to see you waste your precious time with someone who’s more’n likely to fancy your maker over you.” My mouth dropped open in outrage, and he took full advantage of that by kissing me again. While I was still reeling from the sudden contact he kept me off guard by thrusting his tongue into my mouth yet again, and this time he helped himself to a double handful of my pert bottom as well. That brought me directly against his body on more points than I cared to think about, though it didn’t seem to bother the animal part of my brain much- seeing as I was suddenly giving serious though to letting him to take me right there in the garden!

Again, as with last night, there was a merciful interruption before I was entirely lost. This time, in the form of Colin stumbling upon us. Immediately I disentangled myself, turning bright red and threatening to hit Jack.

“Will you kindly desist from kissing me every time I stand still long enough!” I scolded, seeing his usual bravado come back up at the presence of another man- especially one he seemed to have taken a dislike to.

“Sure, when you stop looking so inviting.” he replied with a wink. “And when you stop melting every time I kiss you.” I made some small noise of outrage, and Colin apparently picked up the true idea that this was not my idea, because he scowled and took my arm very gently, leading me away from Jack.

“Now, see here, that is no way to speak to a lady!” he said on my behalf, endearing himself to me further with those words.

“Ladies don’t use their tongue the way she does.” Jack replied, obviously prodding my rescuer’s good will. Indignant at the affront to my honor, Colin stiffened, a hint of fangs flashing from his mouth in anger as he spoke next.

“I will not hear another word against her.” he said in an even tone. Taking my arm again, with the same gentle insistence as before, he started us back up the path to the mansion. Silently I prayed for Jack to keep his mouth shut, but as usual that prayer went unanswered. As new as Colin was to me I still did not wish to see him hurt, and my sensibility told me that any further remark from my errant companion would incite a duel.

“Bold words from a coward.” Jack said, and I felt our progress along the trail stop. Colin didn’t even look back as he responded.

“Then find steel where your actions have none, and I’ll show you how much of a “coward” I am.” he said, and we continued on.

In the mansion, Colin announced his intention, and while servants were finding sword and clearing the dance floor, I glared at Jack, anger tight in my belly. Freeing myself from Colin, I stalked over and came within kissing distance of the ruffian.

“Take it back!” I hissed. “Stop this now! You are goading him and you know it. Why have you such a problem with Colin?”

“Easy, Sweet, because he’s interested in you.” he replied, and I had no time to respond appropriately before both men had swords in hand, and I was forced to back away as they faced each other. Colin’s face was set, while Jack was smirking as usual. I joined Gaston, and quickly found Delilah on my other side. Mortified that I was the cause of such a fight, I tried to make my apology, but she was having none of it.

“Oh no no no Mateline this is quite exciting!” she brushed it off in the same whisper as I had been using, so as not to jar the pair’s concentration. Her cheeks were flushed, eyes lit up like an eager schoolgirl’s. “Colin is a master swordsman, I do hope your boy gives him a sporting fight. It would be a lovely change from the usual quick defeat he serves.” Crossing my fingers, though I didn’t know in whose favor I did it, I watched the men circle each other. From the way his mistress spoke Colin had a clear advantage with a blade in his hand, but if I knew Jack- and I did- he would quickly even the field by cheating and going for a boxing match instead. No one bested Jack at bare knuckles.

Jack moved first, rocking smoothly into a thrust which Colin quickly rebounded, spinning the sword blade off easily and countering it. Thus began the intricate dance of swordplay, bringing with it the music of clashing steel and rapid steps. True to my expectation, barely five minutes in, Jack was disarmed, sending his sword skittering across the floor. Colin leveled his blade at Jack’s throat, but instead of surrendering the other man merely chuckled.

“Jack don’t you dare!” I spoke, though it was out of place. “Please, just admit you were wrong!” I pleaded, not wanting to see either of them hurt, though they would heal back to perfection with a round of blood and a good day’s rest. He ignored me though, batting the blade aside and moving in with lightning fast blow to Colin’s gut, doubling him over in surprise. I gasped, along with several other onlookers, but Colin would not be fazed. Tossing his own sword aside, he went after Jack, driving a hard fist into his mouth and bloodying them both against the sharp fangs there.

“I see you’ll take your whipping by doubles then!” he crowed, shortly before Jack put a hard shoulder into his stomach and drove them both to the ground. I pressed my hands to my mouth in dismay, watching in stunned silence as Colin rolled them over, pinning Jack down by the collar of his shirt and using the other hand to batter his face with well placed blows that made me cringe with the accuracy of their strikes, drawing the ugly crunch of breaking bones. Jack finally managed to get a grip on Colin, half tearing his shirt open in the process as he swung the man to one side, locking their legs together and swinging at him, making contact in several places until Colin swung forward and actually headbutted him! Jack’s eyes rolled back, grasp going limp, and Colin disentangled himself, barely breathing hard. His lip was bleeding, fangs extended, and blood streaked the front of his white shirt, torn down to his belt and exposing an indecent amount of his toned chest and belly- which I could not for the life of me tear my eyes away from.

“Oh good show Colin!” Delilah cooed, clapping her hands and going to meet her offspring. My torn mind was made as my eyes darted between the victor- standing surrounded by admirers- and poor Jack, who was just regaining consciousness. Lifting my skirt, I rushed to his side, dropping to my knees and cushioning his head in my lap, stroking away strands of his dark hair and peering down in worry. Catching the eye of a servant, I snapped my fingers.

“Fetch my carriage boy- quickly now!” He scurried away with a clumsy bow, and I returned my attention to the man bleeding all over my favorite dress. “Stupid man, why didn’t you listen to me?” I murmured as his maker joined us. Martha was one of the few of our kind from the Colonies, newly migrated several years ago, bringing Jack with her.

“You know he’s far too stubborn for such common sense.” she told me, taking his hand in her own. “Try not to speak darling, I do believe he may have broken your jaw.” Jack made some sort of mushy sound, more blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and she sighed, pursing her lips briefly at him, though I could see my own worry mirrored in her pretty features.

“If you will allow it, Martha, I’ll tend him tonight.” I murmured as I spotted the servant boy heading our direction. “After all, it was my fault this silly duel even took place.”

“Are you sure, dear? I’m more than happy to drag this sorry lout home to do it myself.” she replied, ever practical, but I insisted, helping him to his feet and looping one of his arms around my neck to help him keep balance. Colin gave me a surprised look as he placed me in the crowd, and I gave him an apologetic smile before helping the staggering Jack out into the carriage awaiting us outside.

On the way home, I leaned in close to Jack, touching his arms and chest to make sure nothing felt out of place. I was no physician, but surely if there was a bone broken or misplaced it would feel different. Nothing seemed to be amiss besides the copious amount of blood caked on his rapidly swelling face, and I soon formulated an idea to help him heal. Ordering that the carriage be stopped, I carefully helped him out, allowing him to lean on me once again as we walked along the sidewalk. Spying two men ahead, I carefully stowed us down an alley, then began calling for help. In no time the two strangers appeared at the mouth of our dark alley, silhouetted by the guttering light of the street lamp nearby.

“Please, some assistance?” I begged, wringing my hands fretfully and trying my best to look distressed. “There were beggars, poor men that robbed us as we made our way along the walk. They’ve beaten my poor husband quite soundly!” As I’d suspected, their goodwill was won over easily, and they came right to us. Jack took the one to the right, a large brawny man that looked to be some sort of dock worker; while I took his companion, thinner, but with rich enough blood to fill my belly. We struck without warning, Jack at his man’s throat with a vicious tearing noise while I retained my manners, holding my man’s head to one side and biting in delicately to pierce the artery there. As I fed I was aware that he was struggling, alternating between pushing at my body and trying to break my grip. Soon his pulse weakened, though, and his arms fell limp. Withdrawing my fangs, I leaned him against the wall beside us, as if he were merely drunk, and turned to find Jack watching me as he wiped his bloody mouth with the back of his sleeve.

“God, you act like a proper lady even when you’re killing.” he commented, and my mouth thinned slightly as I withdrew a kerchief from my sleeve and lightly dabbed the two or three stray drops of red liquid that dotted my lips.

“That’s because I am a lady.” I replied as we made our way out oft he alley. At this hour the street was deserted, though we still took a back road to ensure no one saw the blood Jack was sporting all over his face and shirt. Silence reigned between us, broken only by the cicadas and the wind in the trees, until we reached the back step of my villa. There he caught my arm gently, and I looked up at him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked softly, and I purposely answered in an obtuse manner.

“I live here.”

“No, I mean here with me.” he corrected, despite the fact that he knew very well how evasive I was being at the moment. “Shouldn’t you be back with that Colin fellow? He won fair and square, even when I was cheating.”

“I am not a door prize, Jack.” I gave him a frosty look, turning back to the door dismissively. “Good night.”

“Wait- Mateline, I didn’t mean it that way.” he protested, and I allowed him to follow me inside. We made our way to the parlor, where I sent one of the servants to fetch Jack a proper shirt, and another to find a bowl of hot water and a cloth. Our hired help were mostly human, though they either loved or feared my maker and I enough to stay with us loyally despite our odd nature, which I am sure they must have noticed. Perching on a chair, I motioned Jack to sit down, and he did. “Didn’t mean offense, Sweet.” he said finally, and I raised a thin brow at him. “I just thought you might like to be with the man that fought for your honor, instead of insulting it like I did.” The maid returned with water and cloth, giving me a surprised look as I took it and dismissed her. Sitting beside Jack on the couch, I damped the cloth and began the rather tender process of cleaning the blood from his face. His condition had been vastly improved by the blood he imbibed, but there were still superficial cuts and bruises to plague him, and he winced even under my gentle fingers.

“You are one of the crassest men I know.” I murmured. “Your manners are atrocious, you have no idea of personal space, and I do believe you start fights for the good fun of it all.” He grimaced a little, and I sighed, pausing to look up at him. “However. I would not have you any other way. As much of a thorn in my side as you can be, you’ve still been a good friend in whole, always a ready reminder not to take life too seriously.” A smile crossed his face, and I returned to cleaning him up. “Besides that, hard as you may try you’ve never done me any permanent damage, and if I were with Colin you’d be licking your wounds all by yourself.”

“Thank you.” he said as I finished up, setting the bowl and cloth aside. “Any chance of a kiss to speed my healing?”

“Don’t be cheeky!” I laughed, rising to meet the servant waiting with a fresh shirt. By the time I had turned back to my patient, Jack had stripped his old shirt off right there in the parlor! Blushing, I put a hand to my mouth, then drifted forward. “There are…so many scars.” I breathed, reaching out absently to trace one of the lines that marked his flesh. “What happened to you?” I asked, looking up at him.

“Before I was turned, I was a soldier.” he shrugged. “A lot of the time they just dug the bullets out of us and sent us on our way.” Now fascinated, the shirt dropped from my forgetful fingers in order for me to splay both hands on his bare chest, unable to resist the smooth skin marred with tiny bumps as my fingertips crossed one scar or another. Jack returned my touch, drawing me closer and drifting his fingers up my arms to the bare curve of my shoulders, leaving a wave of light tremors in the wake of this innocent, yet somehow terribly intimate contact. “I wish you weren’t so gentle sometimes.” he said softly. “Then I wouldn’t be so afraid of hurting you whenever I touched you.” My eyes lifted to his, and for once I was the one that stole a kiss from him. It was impulsive and soft, surprising me with the gentleness which he returned the gesture with. My hands drifted up his strong arms and broad shoulders to the back of his neck, and I clung to him, electric desire emanating from the simple merging of our lips.

“I knew you had tenderness in you.” I breathed as we finally parted, staying mere inches away from each other, the better to take more of the drugging kisses we shared, pressing together as he ardently explored the skin of my jaw and throat with his mouth, placing a row of nibbling kisses there. The very core of me was on ablaze with desire, spurring me on to new heights as I pressed his head closer in encouragement. I wanted his hands on me, bare of silk and lace. The next time he pulled away, I caught his hand in mine, nuzzling his palm and planting a small kiss there before linking our fingers and pulling him gently towards the entrance, and past that, the stairs that would lead up to my bedroom.

Jack and I made love until nearly dawn, bouts of passion intermingling with small pockets of stillness. Finally we lay back a last time, satiated and tangled together in the bind of my sheets. His head rested on my chest, my arms around him and tracing light designs on his back with my fingertips. My eyes fixed steadily above me, and among the haze of satisfaction that took my brain I wondered what I had done.

“Penny for your thoughts?” his husky voice brought me away from my inner musings, and I looked down with a smile to see Jack contemplating me from between the swells of my breasts. “Do you regret this?”

“No.” I sighed, stroking the back of his head. “It is not regret, so much as wonder. As fond of you as I’ve been I never thought we would end up here.” He chuckled, and I felt him nod.

“Truth be told I never expected you to let me share your bed either.” he murmured. “Guess we’re both in uncharted water, Sweet.” I made some small sound of agreement, and we stayed the day like that, nestled together in my bed to while the daylight hours away.

Writing Prompt: Holiday Cheer

It’s Christmas! (says Captain Obvious) Also, yes, I know most of my characters are tortured. It’s what I do best, so just bear with me and try not to have a heart attack when I finally create someone happy.

Prompt: How do your characters spend the holidays? Who’s a total Scrooge…as opposed to the bringer of all things red and green? Family visit or none? 

Example: 

Standing on the porch in her pajamas, Kenna blithely ignored the biting cold as she watched snow fall in sheets. The children were in the front yard, shouting and laughing as they chased each other in circles, leaving tracks in the puffy whiteness covering the ground.

“You know, most people wear a coat when they go outside in weather like this.” She startled, whirling and half into a defensive crouch before she saw it was just Blair. The tall woman was fully dressed in jeans and boots under a puffy winter coat. She had a knit hat placed delicately on her head, managing to look twice as put together as Kenna had ever managed.

“Oh. It, uh, feels good.” she shrugged awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot as Blair joined her on the porch, shutting the door. “Sleeping next to Jamie is like being in bed with a furnace.”

“It’s a Frasier thing.” the other woman laughed lightly. “David’s hot too. And he always seems to want to be right next to me.” Kenna gave her a half smile, folding her arms and looking out at the yard again. “You know, I feel like it’s rude to ask, but if you don’t mind…you don’t seem very comfortable here. Why?” Blair asked, and Kenna’s mouth twitched.

“You aren’t being rude.” she said, keeping her eyes on Angela as she bounded through the drifting snow, squealing as her sister chased her. “Truthfully, I am completely out of my element, being here with your family.” Angela ducked behind one of the cars, hiding as Louise searched around, the snowball in her hand half forgotten. “I’ve never had anyone to “get together for Christmas” with. If I was lucky my older brother would come home for a few hours on Christmas Eve, but usually he was out, and I was alone.” Louise found her sister, shoving the snowball down the back of Angela’s coat, making her yowl in protest. Kenna blinked, then smiled slightly at Blair. “Pardon me.” she said, and ducked back inside.

In the spare room she and Jamie had been assigned, she shut the door, hearing the shower running in the bathroom attached to their room. Stripping off clothes as she went, she stepped naked past the curtain and pressed her body against Jamie’s warm back.

“Jesus!” he yelped, jumping and turning to face her, holding her at arm’s length and putting her under the hot water. “Did you go out there just so you could do that to me?” She grinned slyly, and his scowl deepened. “Jerk.” he said, stepping close again and leaning in to kiss her.

The Obligatory Christmas Post

Happy Effin’ Holidays!

It’s 7:30, the kids are already in bed due to Christmas overload, and I feel like it’s much, much later in the night than it actually is. 

In any case, that’s no excuse not to be on the Internet, even though my carpal tunnel is killing me. 20 years old, and I have carpal tunnel. How fuggin’ sad is that, right? In any case I’ve got my nifty brace on, and it’s helping, so onward I press.

Adventures in NaNo

DAY 5: 

Desina watched her best friends try on clothes and fought the urge to sigh. She eyed Becka’s plentiful bust enviously as the young demon held a blue top up with a swooping neckline, then her eyes bounced towards Tylee’s breasts, thrust up in a blatant invitation by her lacy bra as she flicked through the selection of clothes they had in their private area of the store the were in.

“Desi why don’t you try something on?” Becka coaxed, turning to see the slender young demon still sitting on the small white couch to one side.

“I don’t think anything here will fit me.” Desina replied wryly, and Tylee rolled her eyes, coming over to flop down on the couch next to her.

“Don’t be a stick in the mud.” she pouted, tugging at the hem of her friend’s shirt. Desi tried to push her off, and in the ensuing wrestling match they ended up on the floor in a tangle of sleek limbs and tearing fabric. Their friend Eden chose that moment to walk in, completing the foursome, and he eyed the girls wrestling on the floor a moment before joining Becka on the sidelines.

“Isn’t it a bit early for girl-pile?” he asked, and she shrugged. Desina finally managed to roll Tylee over and pin her down, baring her sharp teeth briefly before getting to her feet.

“Look at this Ty! My shirt is ruined!” she said angrily, snatching up her jacket and pulling it on as she stalked out of their area, zipping it up as she went. Ignoring the way her friends called out after her, she stalked through the store, walking off her anger with her tail lashing around her slim legs angrily. Pausing at the fountain to fix her boots, hiking them up over smooth brown knees where they were supposed to be, she became aware of eyes on her. A small group of male demons perhaps a few years older than she was were shooting her tiny skirt admiring looks. Flicking her forked tongue at them, she strode away, in no mood to be ogled. With a sigh, she brushed her long black hair out of her face, deftly avoiding the small black horns that grew from her forehead over intense eyes the color of mocha.

Outside in the warm night air, heat enveloped her like a physical thing, pressing intimately against her skin as she paused to light a cigarette. Blowing smoke out, she allowed the last of her anger to ebb away. In truth, it wasn’t so much that she was pissed at Tylee for ripping her shirt, just that this was not a good day to tease her like that.

“You know you’re begging for trouble dressing like that.” a deep voice spoke from behind her, and Desina jumped, whirling around. From the shadows behind her a tall shape morphed into the bodyguard her father assigned to watch her.

“By the Host Adrian you scared me.” she said with a sigh of relief that it was only him. “Don’t do that!” He nodded absently, eyes on the slice of bare skin between her jacket and her skirt, as well as the mostly nonexistent cleavage in the wide gap of her neckline, which showed the edges of her bra. “What are you looking at?” she muttered with a scowl, blowing a short puff of smoke out her nose and turning to face the parking lot again. “There’s nothing to see there anyway.”

“You think tits are the only thing you’ve got to look at?” his next words came on a hot breath up the back of her neck, and she couldn’t help but shiver a little at his nearness. The tip of Adrian’s tail traced up her bare thigh, only to stop teasingly short of slipping underneath. Catching the direction her thoughts were going, Desina stepped away from him, folding her arms and puffing on her cigarette.

“You are going to get so fired if Daddy ever catches you doing that.” she said with a faint smile curling the edges of her mouth. “And yes, I KNOW that tits are all anyone’s got to look at.”

“More of an ass man myself.” he replied nonchalantly, lighting his own cigarette and casually scanning the darkness around them like he was supposed to be doing. A gun was holstered at his hip, but Desina knew that he wouldn’t need to use it to neutralize an attacker if someone were ever stupid enough to pose real danger to her.

“What makes you think your opinion matters that much?” she asked, needling her guard- which was her second favorite pastime. His heated black eyes scorched a path down her body, and he smirked.

“Funny how a nobody like me can turn you on, isn’t it.” he commented, and she glared even as she felt her cheeks heat up with the truth of his words. Adrian did turn her on, more than she liked to admit, but she was out of his class. There was a huge difference between Higher Demons and Middle Demons in her society. That thought brought her mood down again, and she looked away. Immediately he noticed the change and the smile dropped off his face. “I’ve stepped over a line. I apologize.”

“It wasn’t you.” she sighed, waving it off as she crushed her cigarette under the high heel of her boot.

“What then?” he prompted, and she arched an eyebrow at him. “Don’t give me that look, I’m a good listener.” he said. “No guaranteeing how much use I’ll be if you cry though…”

“I don’t cry.” she scoffed, then relented a little and added “It’s just…not fair. Becka and Tylee both fill out a bra so well. I look pretty pathetic next to them. When we go out together, it seems like the guys are too busy ogling them to even notice me.” Adrian gave her a faintly surprised look, then shook his head a little.

“So what you’re saying is that you’re jealous because you DON’T get sexually objectified?” he said, and she was about to reply when suddenly the small earpiece in his right ear popped to life with something she couldn’t hear. Immediately he tensed, and she could see him go into full alert. Becka, Tylee, and Eden came running out looking panicked, and Adrian herded them to the parking lot quickly. Eyes darting between the limos and the brightly lit store, he seized Desina by the shoulders and said “Get to the cars with the other girls and STAY PUT! You hear me!” He gave her a little shake to punctuate his words, and she nodded, watching as he went barreling in.

“What happened!” she asked as she unlocked the limo door and helped Becka in, who was sobbing hysterically.

“W-we were in the changing room still when th-there were gunshots. Some men in masks came in and t-tried to grab us.” Tylee quavered. Shots split the night air behind them, and Desina felt fear stab her gut. She stuffed Eden in behind the girls, then shut the door.

“Desi where are you going!” Becka cried, but she ignored her friend, running towards the store.

Inside, she could hear commotion coming from near the fountain at the center of the store. More shots made her flinch, but she kept going until she could see the fight. Becka’s guard was knelt beside Eden’s man, trying to stop the blood welling from his chest while Adrian took on three men in black masks. One more was on the second level, aiming down at them. Crying out, Desina tripped forward and that drew attention to her. In a rapid change of events the masked men withdrew, tossing a black disk behind them. She rushed forward to cover Adrian’s body inadequately with her own, right as the bomb went off in a huge burst of magic.

Adventures in NaNo

DAY 4: This is incredibly NSFW. Also, if you’re afraid of catching “the gay” you should probably look elsewhere. 

Like here.

Or here.

Also here.

And one more to tickle your delicate fancy. Because the number of people offended by baby ducks versus the number of people offended by those of us who like our partners with the same bits is somewhere in the ballpark of 1 to a million and a half.

A Team of Their Own

A Team of Their Own

This is a Futurama reference from Bender. I have seen every episode and made-for-TV movie special in existence and I am nowhere close to ashamed.

My catchphrase around friends may or may not be “Bite my shiny metal ass!”

Arkasia

These words. Oh my sweet rollerblading Jesus- these WORDS. This speech sounds so familiar, and I feel like such a dunce for not knowing who gave it. The intellectuals in the comments section seem to think it was Charlie Chaplin..? Will research further.

Also- SuicideSheep made this- whom is second only to Morgan Freeman, Vin Deisel, and actual Jesus on “The List”. It’s pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of it.

Adventures in NaNo

DAY 3: 

Max watched the red of the limo’s brake lights disappear through the rain, and chewed on her lower lip. Taking a deep breath, the girl turned to face her new home, and began the walk up the long, curving road leading to the mansion at the top of the hill. Throughout her walk, her only companion was the soft sound of rain pattering against leaves of the trees lining her path, winding like a snake along the cliff where a raging sea beat relentlessly against the rocks.

Some time later, a sound broke the silence, making her look up. The chirping cry came again, and she drifted to the edge of the cliff, peering over cautiously. Stranded on a ledge several yards down, was a creature like she had never seen before. Small and black, it looked like a large lizard, except the thin set of leathery wings that attached just behind its shoulder blades. It looked up at her and let out another mewling cry, buffeted by the wind and holding desperately to its little ledge of rock. Max looked around, then dropped her suitcase and tightened the straps of her backpack. Dropping to her knees, she rolled onto her belly and dangled the lower half of her body over the cliff’s edge, finding a toe hold and starting her careful descent. Through the slow climb down, the wind clutched at her, tearing her dark hair free of it’s ribbon and sending it whipping out in tendrils around her.

(It would be simpler to jump from the top.) a soft female voice whispered in her ear, and Max ignored the ghost floating at her shoulder, staring curiously.

“Not trying to kill myself.” Max grunted, reaching out for a handhold and pulling her body across, flailing in midair for a moment. With no other choice, she jacked her body sideways and jumped, squeezing her eyes shut until there was the abrupt halt of a rock ledge under her feet. When she cracked her eyes open, relief flooded her, turning her knees weak. Clinging to the cliff face with one hand, she held the other out to the small creature huddled a foot away. “Come on, come here boy.” she coaxed, and the creature cocked its head, snaking a long neck out to sniff her fingertips inquisitively. The ghost watched impassively from where she floated several feet away.

(Why sacrifice yourself for this creature? In my time they were hunted and killed.) she sniffed, making Morgan roll her eyes. The little thing finally scampered over, climbing up her arm and digging sharp claws into her skin in an effort to keep its balance. Max cried out in pain, and it cheeped, snaking into her backpack as a place to hide. Once she’d found her center again, Max started the long climb back up, with the ghost at her side the whole way, calling out things that were less than helpful.

Finally she reached the top, dusting herself off lightly and pulling her backpack around to peer inside. Her newest rescue was sound asleep, curled in a ball and snoring a little.

“Well, I guess you can come with me then.” she muttered. “Haven’t exactly seen anything else like you around here.” Setting the pack carefully down, she peeled her tee shirt off, draping it over one arm and twisting her head to survey the damage that had been done. Scratches in sets of three scored the back of her right arm, as well as that shoulder, snapping one strap of her camisole. That one hurt the most, so she folded up her shirt to form padding between her shoulder and the strap of her backpack. Then she picked up her suitcase again and continued on her journey.

By the time she finally arrived at the wrought iron gates surrounding the mansion, it was dusk, and her shoulder had bled through the shirt cushioning it. Max pushed at the gates, then peered through them to call “Hello?” There was a clunking sound somewhere nearby, and she jumped back as the gates slowly creaked open, allowing her to step through. Pale gravel crunched underfoot as she made her way up the driveway, coming face to face with a large, sprawling mansion. A soft chirp and some squirming announced the lizard in her pack had woken, and a second later she felt its head poke out to nuzzle her cheek, looking around as she came up the steps, reaching out to knock on the hardwood door sporting a snarling gargoyle’s head for a knocker. “Maybe no one is home.” she murmured, and the lizard trilled, ducking low as the door suddenly swept open.

Standing in front of her was a tall man in his forties, looking as stern as she had ever seen. Piercing blue eyes bore down on her, and there was no recognition on his face. Max swallowed hard, then gave him a hesitant smile.

“Are you Alec Stone? Do I even have the right address…?”

“Who are you.”

“Max- um, Maxine. Carrie’s daughter? Carrie your sister?” He cocked a dark eyebrow, then stepped aside and motioned her in. The door shut behind her with a sense of finality, and Max fought the urge to wince. “I’m sorry if I barged in on you, mom said she’d called.”

“She did. I just did not assume she would be so bold.” Stone replied. “You’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Well there was this little…lizard…thing, over a cliff. I climbed down to get him and he kinda freaked out and when he climbed into my backpack he-” Stone held up a hand to halt her explanation, and stepped in close, peering into her pack, where the small creature chirped at him.

“Do you know what this is?”

“Um…no?”

“It’s a dragon, *silva draco* if I’m correct. The preserve will most likely be looking for it.” With that her uncle straightened, and steered her back out the door. “Besides that I suppose you will need medical attention. We’ll go into town.”

************************************************************************************

Max arrived in Boulder Creek around noon, and headed straight for the Dragon Preserve. In salute to the warmth of the day, she wore only a pair of short denim shorts and a flowing top with butterflies printed on it, baring her newly scarred shoulder, though it was too nice a day for her to feel self conscious about it. Waving a greeting at Holly, Max headed straight for the Silva room, stepping in and closing the door behind her. Immediately Drake came to meet her, trilling happily and hovering as she pulled on one of the heavy leather sleeves hanging by the door. As soon as she held her arm up he landed, inching up to her shoulder and nuzzling her cheek.

“I missed you too.” she laughed softly, kissing his scaled nose. He blew a puff of smoke at her, then whipped his head around as the door at the far end of the room opened, letting a high stack of crates supported by jean clad legs in. Orin kicked the door shut behind him, and maneuvered around awkwardly thanks to the wiggling dragons enclosed in the crates. Seeing the stack about to fall, Max quickly rushed to help, offering extra support from her side. Orin let out a sigh of relief, poking his head around.

“Oh thank you- Max! Hey! Max, hi…Max.” he stammered, turning beet red as his glasses slipped another inch. She helped him set the crates down, and smiled as he shoved his glasses up his nose with one finger. Due to the humidity of the room, he had stripped down to his undershirt, the tank top showing off his slim frame and arms, one enclosed with a bulky leather brace much like hers. Sweat caused his already unruly black hair to stick out at several different angles. “What are you doing here?”

“Just thought I would stop by and see Drake. I hope that’s okay?” she glanced at him as she straightened, and he nodded vigorously.

“It’s always good to see you! I mean, for Drake’s sake of course he really misses you.” he mumbled, going redder, if that was possible.

“Of course.” she agreed with a smile as Drake landed on her sleeved arm, chirping and trilling. “So, do you need any help?”

“If you want to, you can let those guys go while I start getting everyone fed.” Max nodded, and crouched down in the grass to start unlatching the crates Orin had been carrying. The dragons were all quite pleased to be out, and swooped around her, chattering and chasing each other, making her laugh. Drake took off to join them, and for a minute she sat still and watched them swoop in and out of the trees planted in their habitat, a huge room with a glass roof. In following a pretty blue female’s flight path, her gaze landed on Orin- catching him staring at her. He blushed and looked away quickly, but she still smiled at him, straightening up to stack the crates and carry them to the small concrete pad by the back door.

“So what did you have them out for?” she asked casually as she picked up a sack of feed and headed out into the room, molding the special mash of seeds, fruit, and protein meal around the tree trunks like Orin was doing.

“A couple of them got sick.” he replied. “It was weird, I’ve never seen the symptoms they were exhibiting before.” Shaking his head, Orin sighed. “Anyway, they got better after a couple of days, so I think it might have just been something they ate.”

“That’s good.” Max nodded, and they finished up their chore in relative silence. She watched as the little dragons crawled expertly over the trees, nibbling at the thick layer of food coated there. It was supposed to simulate their natural feeding habits, but to Max it just looked cute. When she turned and found Orin standing nervously behind her, she smiled.

“So…that was my last chore for the day, and I have some extra time now. Um, if- if you wanted to, I have a lunch break and, um, do you maybe want to grab something to eat?”

“Sure, let me say good bye to Drake and I’ll meet you out front.” she agreed, and they parted ways briefly, only for Max to meet him outside the building a minute later. He’d obviously toweled off from the humidity of the Silva Room, and donned a plaid shirt, left unbuttoned over his tank top. Orin was tugging at his hair when Max walked out, but he stopped and gave her an apologetic look as she drew level with him.

“There’s just no taming it, I guess.” he sighed, making her giggle.

“That’s okay.” she said with a shrug. “I kinda like it messy. It’s…you.”

They walked further into town, making small talk all the way, and by the time they had found the diner and sat down, Orin was more relaxed than Max had ever seen him. A waitress came by to take their order, and then there was a lapse of silence in which Orin kept sneaking glances up at Max. “Will you quit looking surprised?” she chuckled, and he smiled.

“Sorry. I am, girls like you don’t usually go for guys like me.” he replied, shoving his glasses up his nose. “Happened in high school all the time, they’d say yes, and then stand me up.” He shrugged as their food arrived, and changed the subject. “So anyway, what are you doing in a place like this? Nobody ever moves INTO Boulder Creek.”

“Oh my mother decided I was being rebellious since I decided not to go to college, so she shipped me off to live with Uncle Alec.” Max rolled her eyes, and Orin cocked his head. Seeing the question coming, she answered for him, since his mouth was full. “I did pretty well in school, but halfway through my senior year it was like, what am I doing this for? Where is this going to get me in life- a good college, onto a steady job, where I’ll spend my life behind a desk. I just figured I didn’t want to do that, so I told her I was taking a year or two off. She freaked out, and, well, here I am.”

“Wow. So that makes you, what, eighteen?”

“I’m twenty.” she laughed. “Got held back a year when I was in first grade. I had a…hearing problem, so when teachers told me an assignment I literally couldn’t hear them.” She held back on mentioning the fact that her school had been haunted, and so full of ghosts that the whispers were deafening. No, Orin didn’t have to find out about the crazy until later. “Why, how old are you?”

“Twenty-five.” he replied. “I started my internship early because I graduated early- my parents home schooled me.” They talked a little about family after that, and Max breathed a sigh of relief that they had moved away from any dangerous topics.

When she got home, Alec was in his office, talking on the phone with a scowl on his face. Max intended on bouncing past with just a simple hello to let him know she was home, but he caught her eye and waved her in. A second later he hung the phone up, and turned his chair to contemplate her.

“That was your mother.” he said, and a sinking feeling started in the pit of her stomach. “She says that she’s through being upset with you over your college choices, and she would like you to come home to start touring campuses.” Frustration welled up, and Max drew a hissing breath, scowling as she looked away. Alec, always perceptive, noted that, but went on. “I informed her that I would speak with you on the matter, seeing as you are an adult, and can make adult decisions.”

“I don’t- I don’t get what is so hard to understand about me not wanting to go to school.” she said, running an agitated hand through her dark hair. “I need some time to put my head on straight before rushing off into things I don’t understand. Isn’t that what most parents want their children to do?”

“I would assume so.” Alec inclined his head in agreement. “What is it about college that you find objectionable, if I may ask?”

“Nothing.” she muttered. “I just, I don’t want to spend my life in an office. It’s been really tough the last couple of years and for once…when I’m here, I can really breathe. I’m sorry, that’s probably not making much sense.”

“It makes perfect sense.” Her uncle’s words made her look up in surprise, and he gave her a very rare smile. “That’s why I moved here. It is…peaceful.” A sigh filtered through him, and he said “I suppose your presence here through the summer would not be completely intolerable. You are nothing like your mother, very quiet.” A smile spread across Max’s face, and before she could think she flung her arms around him in a hug. He stiffened at first, then relaxed a little and patted her back before she pulled away, turning a little pink.

“Sorry. Um, I’ll go call mom and tell her I’m going to stay here for a little bit. I’ll say sorry in advance, there’s probably gonna be some shouting.”

“Understandable.” He nodded, and she left the room.

Adventures in NaNo

DAY 2:

Leaves fell softly from the trees above, gliding down through the air to caress the two shapes laying below. The girl lay flat on her back with one hand hooked behind her head. Beneath her solid weight, the earth pushed up against her, crushing grass between them. The silky flow of her gown did nothing to hide the glow of her pale skin, nor the round, plush curves of flesh she had been blessed with- made in the image of her Goddess. Her bright red hair fanned around her head like a halo, and the boy beside her stroked the silky mass free of leaves absently. By contrast he was the dark to her light- midnight black skin stretching smoothly over angular bones to compliment hair the color of a raven’s wing. He lay on his side facing her, dark fingers fluttering like shadows over her hair as he stroked her. Occasionally his hands would stray to her skin, though he never lingered for too long.

“Do you think anyone would notice if I disappeared?” she spoke softly, barely above the whispering of the wind in the trees above them. The weight of her discovery, and the only secret she hid from him, would not leave her.

“I would notice.” he pointed out, and she sighed.

“My mother would not. I am just another disappointment to her. I have been since I failed the Rite of Gaia.” she muttered, staring up at the waving branches above. The Rite in question was her ticket to womanhood, as well as full acceptance in the clan. To fail it, especially as a daughter of the Head Priestess, was disgraceful.

“It is a stupid Rite. I hate it.” her lover was suddenly angry, as his kind was prone to be, though after months of meeting in secret she was well acquainted with his brief fits, and let it pass.

“You hate everything.”

There was a moment of silence to prove her point, then he said softly “I do not hate you.” The girl was surprised at his words. Among his tribe, to have emotion was to have weakness- a soft spot for enemies to get their claws in and tear him to shreds. She rolled onto her side, halving the distance between them and bringing the two lovers almost nose to nose. Her hand darted out, pale against his skin as she stroked his cheek.

“Oh loveling.” she sighed. “What am I to do with you? The longer we stay together the more dangerous it becomes. You have taken my heart and molded a permanent place for you to dwell.” He traced her hand with his own, and placed it to his hard chest, bare skin hot under her palm.

“And you in mine. If our parents were to discover our sin…” She looked away, and rolled onto her opposite side, away from him. Indeed, it felt like sin, only magnified by her condition.

“I was taught that love is never a sin, if it is pure in intent. The feelings you give me are…puzzling.” she murmured, folding her arms to hold herself tightly, as if she were trying to guard her heart from the half unwanted forces of desire and passion that had driven her to his arms in the first place. She traced the delicate outline of a bright yellow leaf on the ground beside her, and a tear slipped from one eye, running across the bridge of her freckled nose to carve a channel over her other eye in its path to the ground.

“Do you think I wanted this!” her lover burst out. “I should have killed you when we first met, your kind and mine have been at odds since the day our Deities were formed! So why could I not find the strength to drive my knife through your chest! This would be damnably simpler if I had!” He sprang to his feet, and stalked several paces away to stand facing their two valleys, one to the left of the hill they stood on…and one to the right. After a moment she joined him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing herself to his hot back, nuzzling her cheek against the back of his shoulder, where he had been branded with the insignia of his tribe at birth. The scar was long healed now, carving a path of pale gray against his coal black skin.

“Sometimes true strength comes with the prudence to stay your hand instead of lashing out.” she whispered, pressing her lips briefly to his brand. His demeanor eased slightly, and he abruptly turned, letting his forehead drop against her shoulder and curling his arms around her in a rare display of affection.

“Our union is damned.” he said with a tone of resignation she had never heard come out of the stoic warrior’s mouth before. “I do not understand why our Deities would force us together only to tear you from me. I would fight the very earth we stand on- fire- lashing rain- the Deities themselves! Just to keep you at my side where you belong.” Abruptly his head lifted, gazing into her eyes with intensity that took her breath away. “Run with me.” he breathed. “If the Deities have damned us from the start, then blast them both!”

“Do not say such words!” she hissed, looking troubled. The whole of her being ached to obey, to escape the prison walls they had built around themselves brick by brick with each stolen kiss, each fevered touch, each secret meeting.

“No! I am through hiding!”

“You are frightening me with the seriousness in your tone.” she returned her eyes to his in a searching gaze. “Surely you are not contemplating such blasphemy, it is-” The remainder of her words were crushed in a scorching kiss, crushing her pliable body to the hard planes of his own.

“If it is blasphemy to love you, then I gladly sign my essence to the Hellgots.” he murmured, dragging the rough pad of his thumb over her plump lower lip and leaning his forehead against hers. “I belong to you.”

“And I to you- you know that…but to go against the Ancient Laws…” she looked down, and a sigh filtered through her. When she looked up again, his gaze had grown distant. She could nearly feel the walls around his heart coming back up, and so acted quickly. “Take me with you.” Hope dawned on his face, and she leaned up to kiss his lips gently. “We will go to the mountains, and in their shelter our love will flourish.” Hesitantly, she brought his hand to her belly, and looked up at him. “We should go soon, though. Our secret will not keep for much longer.” Astonishment crossed his face as he realized what she was telling him, bringing him to his knees in front of her. “I thought to tell you so many times, but with each instance my words and resolve have failed me miserably.” His gaze leveled with her belly, and in a slight movement he brought his hand against the swell there.

“I did not know this was possible.” he admitted. “Our people seemed so different…”

“Perhaps we are not as divided as we thought.” she reasoned with a gentle smile, relieved that he had taken the heavy news with such grace. Though she refused to acknowledge the idea, part of her deep down had been frightened that he might become angry enough to hurt her…or at the very least, that he would cast her aside and leave her to care for their bastard child alone. He rose to his feet again, and rubbed the back of his knuckles against her cheek.

“We will leave tonight.” he said. “Meet me here at the moon’s first rise. We will travel with her guidance, a night’s time will place valuable distance between us and those who will hunt us.” Her brow creased, and worry resettled on her shoulders, forming a hard ball in the pit of her stomach. She had not thought about the hunters both of their tribes would send, to bring them back, and if that failed, to kill them. “Do not be frightened.” he murmured. “I will protect you to my last dying breath.” She flung her arms around him in a clutching embrace, and then with a last kiss they parted.

Moon rise came almost too quickly for the girl. Clad in her winter kit, with a foraging pack on her back, she crept past the sentries and made her way to the hill. When she arrived, at first her over was nowhere to be seen. An irrational fear that she had been abandoned seized her, and foolishly, she almost cried out before a gloved hand clamped down on her mouth from behind. A familiar voice hushed her, and the fight immediately dropped out of her frame. She turned, and he smiled when he saw her. Fur lined leather breeches snugged to her ample legs and hips, and the long tunic of the same leather and fur did nothing but accentuate the swell of her belly under her cloak.

“Do you see now the reason for haste?” she murmured, and a low laugh escaped him.

“I do. Come, we have ground to cover before dawn.” She nodded, and they set off, leaving twin lives of secrecy behind.

It seemed that they traveled for ages. Through the day they slept, curled together in whatever shelter he could find them, and at night they walked under the silver glow of the moon, distant and cool yet oddly comforting. At times the girl wondered if she had made the right decision, just as the boy sometimes regretted ever involving her with him. She was not cut out for the hardship he put her through.

At last, they reached the shadow of the mountain, looming large against an endless night sky, dotted with pinpricks of light that were the stars he had used to guide them. She stopped on the path, breath clouding the air, and he paused to look back at her. It was his last look before the arrow pierced her shoulder, tossing her forward with a cry. War whoops shattered the night air as the boy’s tribe descended on them, his own shout lost in the chaos. He sprang forward, whipping out a blade of flint to slay two of his own tribesmen before grabbing her arm and hauling her backwards. Flinging his blade over one shoulder, it crunched through the bowman’s neck before the curve of it brought the weapon back to his waiting fingers. He dragged his lover to the safety of the mountain canyon, past the edge of safety for his tribe, and with no bows to pierce the darkness the air was filled with howls of defeat. They fell on deaf ears though. Back out of reach, he dropped to his knees, cradling her gently and staring down into pain-glazed eyes that pierced him as surely as the arrow had found her shoulder. Blood turned the leather of her tunic black in the darkness, and it seemed that the glow had had come to love was leeching out of her very skin.

“This is my fault.” he whispered, and she shook her head.

“No. Do not for a moment…blame yourself. I will be- oh!- very upset if you…do.” she said, laboring to speak past the waves of pain that threatened to suck her under. He cupped her cheek, prompting her to look at him, and in a swift movement he snapped the shaft of the arrow, pushing it completely through. Her eyes widened in shock briefly, before the blue orbs rolled back in her head, and she went limp. Further examination assuaged his worry. The wound was clean, and would heal…if he could get her out of the cold. He lifted her gently, taking them both further into the enveloping darkness of the canyons where they would be safe.

Through the winter, they carved out a meager existence. He had staked claim on a cave just deep enough to be safe and sheltered from the wind and snow, though it was still bitingly cold, and it was here she stayed as her husband was out hunting, whiling away the hours until his return by making them winter gear and blankets. It was hard, having no food stores to fall back on, and soon she was quite thin, with a wraith-like body struggling to support the life inside her. Often she caught her lover gazing on her with worry clouding his eyes, though he would never speak actual words to voice the depth of his unease. Instead he made sure that she received the largest portions of any meal, suffering the bite of hunger silently in order to provide for his chosen one.

The first day of spring arrived with dead silence and a rush of air that was almost warm, as if the entire mountain was breathing a sigh of relief that the darkness of winter was over. The woman woke early, as was her custom, to a strange stirring in her body. Pressure, alien and uncomfortable, bore down on her hips, and with a start she realized the furs under her were soaked. With her lover out hunting and not due back for days yet, she set about the messy female work of birthing. Several times throughout the next hours she felt sure the pain was too much, and once a slender looking fox stole round the mouth of the cave, slinking low to the ground and baring milky white teeth until she managed to chase it away by tossing sticks. After that, there was only silence, sometimes broken by the low, keening noises of pain she made but more often than not, going unshattered until, with a last heaving breath, her baby entered the world in a rush of relief and sobbing cries from the both of them.

Deeper into the maze of canyons, the man was following the path home. He had killed one of the many small deer that leaped from rock to rock, skinning and quartering it on the spot with sure fingers that had performed the task a thousand times before. Today, though, there was a new urgency about his actions. When he had left the cave several days ago, his lover had been sitting quietly, the gravid swell of her belly full nigh to bursting as it tried to contain a babe ready to appear any day. He hated to leave her like that, but they needed sustenance and there was none to be found in the direct area of their home. Now he walked quickly along the trail, pack full of meat, eyes always wary of predators that would take him from her if they could. He could feel eyes upon him already, though none were bold enough to attack, and that hastened his step, bringing him to familiar territory by nightfall. By now his feeling of unease had grown to near panic, and he pressed on through the night, though it was foolish to do so. Upon arriving at the cave, there was little light from the fire, and his pack hit the trail as he rushed to see what had happened. All around the mouth of the cave, feral dogs snarled, darting in and out. Blinded by rage, the man drew his blade, diving into the fray and delivering killing blows until there were none left. Panting, he ventured forward, tasting bitter dread as he softly called out to his woman.

Far in the back of the cave, the woman cowered, tucked onto a high shelf of rock barely wide enough to hold her curled frame. She had heard a commotion at the front, but did not dare risk herself or her son to see what had happened. Footsteps rounded the corner, and she let out a sob as her lover ran to her, holding out his arms for her to fling herself into. He held her tightly for only a brief moment as the babe between them set up a wail of protest, then she was released to silence him with a breast, and her lover was peering into the confines of her shirt.

“I have given you a son.” she said. “Perhaps the Deities are not so angry after all.”