by Teresa Cain
I awoke to find the sun setting and wondered just how long I'd been out. One little stretch and I knew it hadn't been long enough to relax the little pains that come after damn good sex. I'd slept the day away more than likely, but after last night's exercises I was surprised I hadn't slept the week away. Turning over, I stared sleepily at Aerael who was still dead to the world. The covers were pulled up just over the curve of his buttocks, leaving a wonderful view of the line of his back. Poor boy was doomed to be a stomach sleeper for life, I suppose. Those big ol' wings made sleeping on his back a literal pain. That white mane of his spilled over his shoulders, looking so soft and touchable that I had to fist my hands to keep from petting it. If I touched him, I'd wake him... and I didn't want to wake him.
I slipped out of the huge bed as quietly as I could, picking up my clothes from off the floor and donning them. Then I grabbed the sword lying across the chair by the door and padded off to my room for a quick shower. Feelings of deja vu made me smile, except there was no sleepy morning talk this time. And last night's lovemaking differed completely from the first. The first had been completely gentle and tender, the sign of a partner that knew just how untried his lover's body was and wanted to make it as sweet and perfect as possible. And he'd succeeded wonderfully. But last night had been wild and frenzied and noisy and great! Hell, we were both wearing teeth and claw marks. I touched one proudly, smiling softly. Love bites mean much more to the fae, or so he'd whispered to me during one of several interludes. They're a cross between affection and possession.
It's funny, but with a human mentality, that would have bothered me. But I hadn't been thinking like a human since I gave in to faery blood the night before. I stared at the bite marks and thought of my own marking him with no little satisfaction.
Stretching, I walked into my room and started for the bathroom, pausing when I realized something was lying on my bed that hadn't been there last time. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a very, very short dress of slutty Chinese influence. Even with my shortened size, the hem would barely cover the tops of my thighs. It was made of some black satiny material and looked like something the stacked Asian chick from any of those kung-fu video games would wear. It was sleeveless, with a Mandarin collar that felt oddly stiff, but further inspection showed it had some sort of thin metal plates sewn inside of it. It wouldn't provide much protection, but it was better than nothing. A pair of long gloves lay next to it, fingers missing, and a wide sash lay next to them. There was a pair of boots sitting next to the bed: thigh-high.
Smiling, I shook my head. This smelled like Jade's work. Perhaps she'd known exactly what I'd been planning to do before even I myself knew it. These were very pretty clothes, but I could tell just by touching them what they really were, and that was perfectly woven shadows. Jade was very domestically talented for a monster.
I laid the dress down and went into the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothes behind me like bread crumbs in the woods. I just had to hope Jade wouldn't give me away to the others. Two days ago I wouldn't have even considered stepping out of the house without Aerael and Jade and probably even Morte behind me. Now I'd rather die then pull them into it.
A few quick adjustments and the shower ran as hot as I could stand. I grabbed a comb and stepped into the stall, grumbling as I readjusted the showerhead due to my new and stunted stature. Then I worked on getting myself clean while I let my refreshed brain sort out everything I'd experienced over the past few days.
I thought over all the questions posed and sights seen and rumors heard, looking at them individually and then staring at them all together, desperate for some kind of common denominator in this jumbled mess. I thought about my life before and my life after my 13th birthday. I put the father I loved and the father I feared back to back in my mind and stared at them while the steam swirled around me.
All this ran through my mind while I rinsed off, but something didn't occur to me until I was trying to figure out how to shampoo all this hair I'd suddenly acquired. It just hit me, froze me in the midst of that hot water while suds ran down my face.
"They aren't questions," I muttered, swiping at the foam. "They're answers. Damn, now if I could only see what the real questions are."
And then the questions themselves appeared, and I knew.
Significant, insignificant... all my snips of memory slammed together and I saw it all so perfectly. It was like finally seeing past all the little curvy lines on one of those 3-D illusion posters and seeing the little kitten behind it all. Except in this case it wasn't anything as harmless as a cute little kitten. My mind finally saw past all the gibberish and the truth hit me in one great big bright burst of clarity.
And the truth, it did set me free.
I quickly rinsed the shampoo out, then made a hurried scouring with the soap before jumping out of the shower and toweling off. Now that I had it, I had to act before the doubt crept in and made me hesitate. If I hesitated, it was all over with. I couldn't afford to doubt this. It was the truth, but there was something inside my head that didn't want me seeing that.
Well, I had my theories about that as well.
I dashed into my bedroom and snatched up the dress, donning it quickly, and found a pair of underwear that had been lying underneath. Well, good thing she'd thought of it. In my state, it probably wouldn't have occurred to me. And considering how short this dress was, no underwear was definitely not an option.
A hand came from behind me and plucked up the sash, whipping it around my waist.
"So, figured anything about yet?" Jade asked quietly, tying the sash in a big, floppy bow at the back and making little adjustments. She tugged at the sash in the front until it covered most of my abdomen.
"Yeah, I figured out that I'm going to take away your Playstation 2 when I get back. No more DOA2 for you, chickie."
"You wanna lose a hand? Besides, half a battle is show. What were you going to go fight him in? Carpenter jeans and a baby tee? Do you have any idea what that would have done to your fighting mentality?"
"Do you have any idea how hindering this sash is going to be? It's a target! It gives him something to grab and yank me close for a good hard blow!"
"Good! You don't want to wear anything that's going to give you false confidence. You don't want him getting too close, and this will remind you continually. It's all psychological." She picked up the Ice Sword lying on the bed and tucked it into the sash, then stepped back and let me adjust it as needed. "So you've changed your mind about taking back-up?"
"It's no one else's battle, Jade. This is a family matter."
"Are you so sure of that?"
"If you're hinting that the guy who's been calling himself Eli Thorn isn't really Eli Thorn, I've already figured that out. It's a shifter who's taken Eli's name and is doing his damnedest to corrupt it. But it's still a family matter."
"Hey, I know shifters think of themselves as one big family, but don't let a cultural metaphor make you do something stupid, girl. I mean, if you die, I'm out another stand-in for Ophelia, remember?"
I pushed my lip out into a pout. "Oh, gee. And here thought you actually cared. My bad."
"Oh well. Maybe I can get Morte to do it."
I let out a snort, then yanked on the boots, noting that their length actually gave an illusion of some modesty. Not much, but some. Then I pulled on the gloves. "But it's not a metaphor. I'm serious, Jade. This is a family matter. It's no one's business but mine, Eli's, and the bastard waiting for me out there."
She slithered back a few feet, then curled up around herself, nodding. "I know. This is personal."
"Well, vendettas I understand. I've had enough of 'em." She moved closer and touched my hair. "Hell, Carlie... if you think that sash is hindering, what about this mane you've grown overnight? Did you know that the Roman soldiers clipped their hair short so enemies couldn't grab it and use it to expose the throat for cutting?"
"Whoops." I smiled sheepishly. "Forgot about the hair."
She rolled her eyes. "Go get me a brush. I'll put it up for you."
I went into the bathroom and fetched a brush, then sat patiently while she got all the tangles out then plaited it into one long braid that hit my ankles.
"I should let it dangle, let you have something else to consider... but I don't want to overdo it. Reminders not to get cocky is one thing, but too many and they turn into distractions."
"Sounds like you've done this before," I said as she started coiling the braid up like a whip, then tied it at the base of the braid with a black ribbon she plucked from a nearby shadow.
"Yeah well... being a monster means lots of fighting. Bad as a wolf pack, I swear. Okay, let me look at you."
I stepped back obediently and made a little twirl, holding out my arms. She looked me over with a searching gaze, then snorted. "Geez, you look like a live-action anime character."
"You do! Big eyes, little nose, little mouth, petite stature... and those clothes don't help." She gave out a little giggle.
"That's not helping my fighting mentality either, Jade."
"It should. Remember, most anime girls can kick ass like nobody's business."
"That depends on the anime," I muttered, adjusting the sword again. "You've got some where the girl will kick ass for a few minutes, then get overpowered and ravished repeatedly."
"Ah. You found my hentai collection then."
"Yeah. You're a sick, sick person, Jade."
I'm a monster - what are you going to do? Okay, you look great. You obviously know something I don't on top of all the shit that hit you yesterday and the day before, and the combination of it all has really got you fired up for battle. Are you sure you can use that sword now? I really don't think I can talk Morte into wearing a dress, no matter how much I offer to pay him. I need you do come back."
"Your concern for my well-being is overwhelming. I think I'm gonna cry." I gave a couple of fake sniffs, then glared at her. "Can't you find it somewhere in your black little soul for a sincere well-wishing?"
"Not really. Go kick ass, kid."
I glared at her again and made a few practice runs trying to unsheathe the sword in a fluid motion. "Thanks a lot."
She cocked her head. "Just out of curiosity, how do you plan getting out of here without Morte or Aerael tailing you? They're both up and waiting for you in the living room."
I grinned, then glanced behind me at the deep shadows in the corner of my room and back at her. "Okay, one little favor?"
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Bargains ©2000-2001 by Teresa Cain
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