From the poll for continuation story from December’s Giraffe Call. This one ran short, so I will also write a bit of something to the runner-up.
Arinya found the way her captive was gaping at her to be very strange. She’d known he’d have a reaction, of course, and even if he hadn’t been staring, the warmth of his hand on her hip was a clear giveaway.
“So.” He coughed uncomfortably, and seemed to be trying to bring himself to move away, or at least move his hand. She made it easier for him, pressing her hand down more firmly on his and scooting closer. That just made him cough again, and repeat “so.”
“So,” she echoed, smiling at him.
“So,” he repeated, this time in Bitrani. “I am the reason you have not had a lover since the war ended.”
“That is part of what I said, yes,” she answered in the same language.
“Would you like me to leave, then, so you could find a lover without interference?”
She sighed. Were all Bitrani men this stiff-necked, or was it only this one that she’d brought home with her. “If I wanted you to leave, Girey-whose-mother-didn’t-give-you-enough-name-to-scold-you-with, I would have asked you to leave.”
“I like my name,” he protested. “And you don’t have to scold me.” She could see the moment when the rest of what she’d said sunk in. “So you want me to stay.” There was tension in his voice that she didn’t think she’d ever heard before. “And you want…” His voice cracked. “What do you want from me?”
A very good question. She wished she had an easy answer. Taking him with her had seemed so much more reasonable when they’d been at the front. Now, in her bed, by the light of day… “Roll over.”
“What?” he asked, almost a squeak, hardly befitting his dignity as… well, any of his dignity.
“Roll over, please.” Before she lost her nerve or did something they’d both regret. Staying chaste had seemed like such a wonderful idea when she was young, and it really had been practical in the army, but now, faced with this warm man in her bed… now she was beginning to have her regrets.
He rolled over, perhaps just out of the habit of obedience, because he was moving his hands as if they were still shackled together. “That, I have to note,” he mumbled, until he got his elbows under him to get his face out of the pillow, “is not an answer, not unless you Callenthe have funny ideas about answering… which I guess you do.”
“We do,” she agreed. “It’s part of being raised to diplomatic positions – or the army or priesthood, which are about the same.”
“Heh,” he chuckled, and then again, this time a little strained. “Ah… Rin, Arinya, what are you doing?”
What, indeed? “Straddling your bum, what does it look like?”
“Well, it looks a lot like the linen of your pillow from this position. I know you said you were inexperienced, but…”
She silenced him by pushing his face into the bedding. His hair was greasy; they both still needed a bath, desperately. Well, one foot after another. She pulled the blankets off his shoulders, down to his waist, and studied him.
Wisely, now he said nothing, holding still, cautiously tilting his head to one side and regarding her through a stray curl of hair. In addition to a bath, they both needed a haircut badly.
“Try to breathe naturally,” she murmured. “Relax. I am not the enemy.” He had scars on his chest; she’d seen those before, over their season on the road. But none on his back, nothing but muscle, slightly atrophied, and freckled, mole-dotted skin. Slowly, she set her hands just above his spine.
“If you were the enemy,” he replied, “I’d be in trouble.”
She said nothing to that. She had been his enemy – and now he was her captive, in the heart of her territory. By some lights, he was already in deep, deep trouble. Instead, she felt the energy running through his body, the connection to the small courtyard outside her room, the tree which had been growing there since the palace was built, the feel of the life in both of them.
“What…?” he asked, as she began to sense the energy within him, seeking out imbalances.
“It’s the step before a massage,” she answered, most of her attention on the way his muscles pulled and shifted, the way the tendons were stretched, the hitch in his shoulder from the way he’d held the shackles.
“A…” He turned over, frowning at her. “I’m not asking you to be a…” he trailed off, and muttered, “I don’t know the word in Callenian. It’s not a nice word.”
“Healer?” she asked, knowing that’s not what he meant. “You have pain there, Girey. I can soothe it.”
He flushed, discomfort – and, she thought, a realization of the position he’d just put himself in – making him angry. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“I do. But it’s what I meant.” She set her hands on his bare chest, just left of the scar that had damaged his shoulder. “Girey, you have pain, old pain, and pain that I caused. As a healer, I’d like to fix it. As Arinya – I’d like to get my hands on you.” She smiled down at him, wishing her gut wasn’t twisting as she admitted that. He was the enemy, wasn’t he?
“You don’t have to demean yourself…” he tried again.
“Then don’t demean what I’m doing.” She traced the lines of his shoulders, poking gently where she could see the pain flaring up. “Roll over, and let me heal you.”
Slowly, reluctantly, he rolled over. Facing his back, she was able to tell him, “the word you were looking for? It’s ‘bed-warmer’ if you want to be rude, ‘courtesan’ if you’re flattering.”
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