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The Sound of Sutures

 
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The Dark Man
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 6:44 pm    Post subject: The Sound of Sutures Reply with quote

((Rped live with Jezebel Calient. Thank you for the play. ))

When they left the inn together, the path didn’t seem damp or foreboding. Old leaves unturned as they walked like pages of a book, telling a story with each stride. He thought as he saw them that he used to pause more often, appreciate them with more heart, than he did now. Now he wanted to smile politely and move on more quickly before they could stick to the bottoms of his shoes and linger longer than he wanted.

His stride didn’t hurry, it just hoped that leaves wouldn’t lick and stay to the underside of his soles. Both hands rested in his jacket pockets and his eyes came to her face, “It’s nice… walking with someone.” He did not add, also, how awful it was. How old heels clicked hollow in the back of his mind, echoing a sound that hurt more than he thought it would, more than he said or his face portrayed. He kept the facade of a man deep in thought.

Her fingers, resting lightly in the crook of his elbow since he’d offered his arm, gave a gentle impression of warmth to counterbalance the cool fresh-washed night. The rain had passed by the time they stepped outside, the sky heavy with thick, lumbering clouds that thronged the moon, suffocating its light.

Up close, Jezebel was smoldering coals; all sustained heat but no threatening lick of flames. Incandescent in the evening air, her hair rippled softly in the breeze, giving off a faint scent of cinnamon and honey, of fire and smoke.

The leaves underfoot seemed to whisper secrets, their soft rustling made a soothing rhythm for their thoughts. For a time, the Shadow kept his own council and so did she, content to walk with him a ways, to enjoy the company of another without the requirement of conversation. When Tag did speak, she lifted her gaze to his face, capturing his features in their golden flame “It is,” she agreed, her voice a soft hum deliberately kept low. The sadness that wreathed him was tangible, a leaded cloak he wore that seemed almost to drag at his shoulders. For a moment, she studied his profile, but then her gaze moved away, over the path they were travelling.

Thick golden lashes lowering in a subtle flutter, the woman inhaled. “Mm,” she breathed on the exhale. “I love the way the earth smells just after it rains. Fresh, and rich, and full of potential, don’t you think? It makes me feel like almost anything is possible.”

“The world seems better after it’s rained.” He wasn't looking at her but at the path ahead, marked with the disturbance of other people who had come and gone. Their paths looked like veins, riddled over the arm of the woods.

The weight of her gaze was known but he didn't make an outward show of it. They hadn't spent much time together and it was likely she took discrete, if not somewhat discrete, measurements of him and what he was like. Somewhere in the distance he was like her, he foreshadowed fire and soot.

The rain. It's like being in love. The subject was steered gently away, “Are you always in town?” Sometimes unturned rocks sounded like coins plunking on the damp ground.

“Cleaner,” agreed Jezebel, “and newer, somehow. It washes away all the dust of age, but also causes patina.” A warm smile crested the full swell of her lower lip. “So maybe not always better, but certainly different.”

The woman never made any secret of the way she studied people, watching them with an evident interest like the flicker of a candle flame. Her study was not lascivious or rude, only openly curious, the way the inhabitants of a remote island might stare at shipwrecked sailors. The weight of her attention was not intended as a burden.

As they walked, Jezebel thought she could feel his pulse in the muscle of his forearm, its rhythm steady and unfailing underneath her fingers. She smiled for reasons she didn’t explain, though she did answer his question. “Not always. I am not from here, either--” she glanced up at him there, a quick acknowledgment of a commonality between them, “--but my most recent home is...difficult to access these days, so I am here more often than not.”

His pause held onto the air as long as it could before it dropped into his words, “It’s difficult when your home isn't easy to access.” To their discussion of the rain making the world better, or just different, he worked the idea over. Perhaps different was the word for it, yet he still found he had a preference. There was still so much he was hoping would wash away.

“Is the… purgatory a good one?” What he meant to ask her was if being stuck in one world, instead of the other, suited her. At that moment he examined her face, catching her comely details, feeling as though they were too numerous and pre-arranged. The polish of her red hair was too perfect. Her lips had a wanton pout even when she didn't intend it. He suspected she had heard that before so he didn't spend the air to say it.

Tag chewed on his thoughts the way some men chewed their bread, taking his time to taste and digest them. His face reminded her of the mirrored black surface of a deep body of water, perfectly calm and unmoving but for the smallest hints at a ripple. That ripple was fleeting and easily missed, but it was the only clue he gave to the powerful currents swirling underneath.

It was the ripple that made her want to dive deep and discover, but she held herself back, just barely disturbing that fierce surface tension with the slightest, glancing kiss of her fingertips.

“It is strange to feel displaced. To feel the powerful call back to something you cannot reach for reasons that are beyond your control.” Those full lips pursed, her campfire eyes narrowing in thought. If he felt she seemed too perfect, too well constructed, too preconceived, he wasn’t far off the mark. Jezebel had not always looked as she did now, though the girl she’d once been was so far gone that the woman could no longer call up the details.

“I like the in between spaces,” she decided. “Twilight and dawn. The moments just before -- and after -- a raging storm.” It was hard to say whether she really meant the weather.

There was always the sense that he expected to be overlooked, that her eyes were meant to see beyond him to a painting that was hanging on the wall. After so many years of being told he should be invisible, it remained difficult to feel he was otherwise. It had taken him long, too long, to credit himself with importance. Reconciling what was lost, and what was present, was often something he pondered after too much brandy on a rainy night.

How else could he make sense of a situation that didn’t? Of a wind that tumbled with a heart and the reality that the love of his life willingly took to another man’s bed? There was an infant screaming in the background. There were coins and rain, coffee and tea, and some part of him that could not forget the way she bookmarked the wind.

These days he opted not to daydream about it. The memories gave him a temporary joy that was followed, quickly, by what must have been the feeling of being stabbed. There was no one to share that with, no one who would understand. Half the time, Penny blamed him for the world being upside down and he allowed it. It was easier for her to be mad at him, and some part of him continued to want to protect what Madison was, though the instinct to do so made him more and more a fool. There was no “winning” in the situation, no path he could take that didn’t lead over coals or knives or pain. There was only an empty wind blowing through his core.

“The inbetween spaces,” he repeated the words softly and then nodded, vaguely wishing she hadn’t said anything of the sort. He wasn’t wanting to find poetry, but it crept up anyway. He swallowed, “I find I am often in those places.” Not East or West. Not Husband or Single. Not Father or Failure.

“That is one of the reasons I call you Shadow,” she agreed, and as she glanced up at him again, a sad smile adorned her sun-kissed face. “And I can see I’m not the first.”

Jezebel lifted her free hand, using supple fingers to rake heavy silky tresses back from her cheek, down over her shoulder where they tumbled down her back like an effusive lava flow. Melancholy seemed to mantle his shoulders, the air thick with a weight that felt like sorrow between them.

“You remind me of someone I used to know,” she went on as their path came to a divergence and she gently guided them down the left fork. “He was quiet, like you. Ever watchful, like you. A guardian of seemingly all, even when he was supposed to be off duty.” She lifted her gaze to his face again, gauging what miniscule reaction there might be. “He, like us, was in desperate need of friends, but he can’t, wouldn’t let himself, be that open. What about you, Tag. Can you still make friends?”
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One day you will ask me which is more important?
My life or yours? I will say mine
and you will walk away not knowing
that you are my life. (Khalil Gibran)
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The Dark Man
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 6:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“What can the acorn tell a tree but… that it was painful being born? The tree talks about… the pain of birth and seeing everything else move on.” He wasn’t meaning to be clever, or full of riddles. Sometimes his English knew limits and a metaphor helped with that. It painted the emotion better than a plea could.

“I must see the world move on and… it’s a unique pain. I did not think I would feel it alone.” The evening air went through his bones and down his arm. She could feel the muscle tense and then relax, “But it is a fool that depends too much on another, that believes in them too… implicitly.” The dark man believed that even the moon could die. What had been taken to be so profound, so meaningful and permanent, had only been a season.

Wasn’t he a season? Drifting, a momentary pause given by a stranger? Penny anchored him in place, in time, and soon, so would Ame. From where they tied him into place he would dangle chains from one arm and turn it into a swing. In short, there was no understanding of what would happen next, only that he believed it would be beautiful.

The Sentry and the Harlot had more in common than either of them could yet appreciate. Each had been uprooted from one life into another, only to find what had felt permanent about that second life ripped away in an instant. Each stood in the in-between space, creeping along the path to a third iteration, seeking a new sense of self. Jezebel listened to him speak, felt the tension in his arm only to have it melt away a moment later, almost on command.

Thoughtful, Jezebel’s fingers pressed lightly into his bicep in response, the barest beginning of a squeeze that also melted away a moment later. “The world moves on, yes,” she said at last, “but in time a new one replaces it. Feeling it alone is not the same as...feeling it without the person you perhaps expected to be able to believe in so... implicitly.” She mirrored his words, not in mockery but because it was the language he’d chosen to express the ache she suspected was tied tangibly to that indented void on his left ring finger.

Her smile was like turning the heat up on a space heater, spreading additional warmth into the cool night air, the lonely space between them. “For instance, I am not the company you once expected on a night like this, but ...you are not entirely alone.”

The Dark Man had been known for his enigmatic smiles and the way he could appreciate a person for just being who they were. There wasn’t judgment or expectation, but something like a joyous laugh about him when the spirit of someone caught him unaware.

He hadn’t been allowing himself to feel that lately.

Gently, the closed book inside him opened and he smiled, recognizing just how unexpected she was while at the same time being there, surprisingly squeezing his arm and offering the smallest taste of who she was. Jezebel had set her mind to digging, searching, and he was certain whatever she had found was not arresting.

In this sort of world, he would have only been exceptional if his marriage had lasted instead of failing. Now it was a statistic, like everyone else’s, and they were just another broken family that all other broken pieces could relate to. They were the majority, another set of names amid the list of broken homes and he… had not expected that. He had not dreamed that, had not known that such a nightmare could happen. Lately, he had been working to remember what the beauty of a broken family could be, because there had to be some. There must be something reassuring that he could tell Penny. That he, unlike her other parents, would not die or leave.

Promising not to die came with a sort of pain that was impossible to describe. In many ways, it felt like a lie. An unavoidable, inescapable lie. No, he said, I won’t be going anywhere. Not to help a friend, not to soothe an old wound from another city. And if his body threw a blood clot that sent a stroke to his brain? Somehow he would battle it and death would always come to him on the terms which he and Penny had agreed upon the other night. Never. Forever and always.

Her well-timed smile caught some break in him, but his heart did not spread open. She could have wriggled her way open, past the parts of him riddled with rot and despair. Yet she hadn’t. Wasn’t that the sign that some selflessness still lived? The give in him showed in the bowing of his eyebrows, his expression patient and pained.

“It isn’t.”

Jezebel could sense the opening, that sliver of a crack where just a hint of light spilled through. Her smile spread by a few degrees. There was a lot that a woman like Jezebel could do with just that much room, but she didn’t. There was the press of her fingers where she held his arm, a simple reminder that even trees occasionally brushed branches in the buffeting of the wind.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t desirable, that the deep hush of his thoughtfully measured voice didn’t stir some carnal impulse. He was strong and yet soft, the steel of a glinting blade draped in a plush black velvet. She could have, would have, but still, she didn’t.

While it might have been beautiful, it wasn’t the problem that needed solving. And it did a disservice to the real source of the ache, the monumental feeling that welled up inside him, seeping here and there through these infinitesimal cracks. Jezebel just couldn’t quite make herself play temporary band-aid. Not this time.

The path diverged again, and again her gentle guidance led them left. Further away from the city with its harsh noises and all its lights, deeper into the wilder spaces where she felt most like she could breathe. “It is nice to walk with you, Tag,” she said softly. Not just someone, not seeing through him to an imaginary preference somewhere beyond. She said his name--the one he’d given -- because she wanted him to know that she meant him specifically.

“Thank you.” Somewhere in his voice, he was telling her that he enjoyed the walk as well. At one of the paths which diverged he paused, turning to her partly and then looking back down towards the path, “Which way?”

There was only time that he needed. It would take away the sharp impression of his thoughts as new memories built themselves. No pain could be forever unless a person was devoted to martyrdom. He'd survived hurt before, he had known wounds and the slow way a scar formed. Soon it would be like the mark of the coyote on his arm. Old blood and scabs would peel off for pinkish pathways that would grow old and white, like the silk work of a spider.

When she said his name it stood out, mostly because he didn't know too many people so that outside of introductions, he didn't hear his name much. There had been one woman who called him Mamoru, but it had been a long time since he'd seen her. She came and went and he had walked her home a few times, just as he was walking Jezebel home.

The walk home was a good one. He appreciated the sense of closeness that didn't become invasive. The path waited, leaning towards the salt of the docksides as he looked at her.

A tip of her head indicated the left-hand path. Left and left and left again, that's where Jezebel tended to gravitate, towards the water that looked nothing at all like the deep, impossibly blues of her faraway Pacific home, but still carried that comforting, familiar scent of salt and wind and sea.

The tall ships that came and went, too, put her in mind of ocean-weary sailors, their legs unaccustomed to anything but the rolling pitch of the ever moving sea gone brittle and awkward like a newborn baby deer. Watching them relearn how to walk, watching their eyes widen as they began to understand that some of the figures who watched from behind a stand of palm trees were women.

A ways from the docks but still close enough to hear their creaking boards when the tide rolled in, Jezebel eventually led them to the side entrance of a low standing apartment building. It had three floors and hers was the third one, its balconies open to the ocean. This side door made exclusive access, bypassing the lobby and the smaller apartments on the first and second floors altogether. There was a light on up there, spilling out of an open window along with the faint strains of a foreign melody.

“Here we are,” she said at last, breaking what had been a comfortable silence. A smile lifted her cheeks as she looked up at him, a certain knowing sparkle in eyes like firelight. “Another time, I'll invite you in, for the view.”

His attention swung up to the light at the top of the building, glowing like emergency lights do when they are trying to show you the way out from the dark. The sun would always rise, lights would keep being lit, throwing shadows and new illumination onto a world that had seemed well known and now needed to be relearned. Strips of shadows splayed out from the railways, crisscrossing with other fixtures until they seemed like sporadic yellow leaves scattered on the ground around them.

The gentle wrap of her hand left an impression on his arm, subtle enough that it wasn’t like the heat from a fire but from a sunbeam. He looked down to see her long, slender fingers and realized that he didn’t recognize all the little marks about them. He didn’t know the stories of how they came to be hers and of everything they had touched. They had combed through bodies, hearts and countless briny winds that brushed down the side of her apartment building like the essence of the tide rolling forward and then pulling back.

“Another time.” His free hand moved across his body, landing atop of hers before his weight shifted and he receded from her one step, “Take care.” That’s what people said when they were saying goodbye. Take care (of yourself). Take care (of life). Take care (because I want you to be well). Take care (because I care).
_________________
One day you will ask me which is more important?
My life or yours? I will say mine
and you will walk away not knowing
that you are my life. (Khalil Gibran)
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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2017 12:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

((leaving the Red Dragon in the wake of a small altercation))

In the inn, they had been their own little island of refuge, an oasis of calm upon which the crashing waves of outside conversation broke continuously. Jezebel had been content to enjoy the rhythm of it, to be a nexus of warm silence in the center of a gathering storm, up to the moment that the first fist connected with a solid bone on bone crack.

The sentry’s whole posture had changed. Always alert, he’d previously at least given the impression of ease, but no longer. Every line of his dark clad body sang of rigid attention, his oil slick eyes flashing as he uttered the word Now.

There was simply no way she could have refused him.

The side door swung open and they stepped through. First it was fire, then shadow, the commotion of the evening left behind. Small battles at the bar and flirtation, discussion, and cherry blossom tattoos were left in their wake. Once the door shut behind them the world changed, becoming quiet, giving them the sense of privacy even though they had stepped outside.

The acid of the orange juice stayed in his mouth, bitter with still the elbow of vodka in it. He looked over his shoulder as if to be certain that no one else had tailed onto their departure. The Dark Man’s eyes dropped to the warmth he felt at the crook of his elbow, where her hand hung gently to his arm.

The night rolled over them like a wet blanket, the evening air thick with the steamy promise of an approaching summer. Her fingers found their place in the bend of his elbow once more, gold on darker gold. The velvet pad of her thumb came to rest just above the back side of the joint, her index finger along the corded swell of his bicep, her middle digit nestled comfortably into the center crease. Her touch was warm, warmer even than the ambient outside temperature. Up close, she was cinnamon and honey, sunshine and inviting fire, with just a hint of something darker, something like brimstone and ash.

Jezebel breathed deeply of the humid night, taking it deep into her lungs like she could keep it there, preserved inside her. Exhaling slowly, she tipped her face to look up at her escort, his presence as inevitable and unyielding as the shadow he so resembled. A smile spread like sunlight over her features, infusing her golden eyes with a soothing warmth. “I like it better out here, I think.”

Perhaps it was because of his consistency, because of his calm, that he had the air of a creature that would always be present. Kin to statues and faceless guards, parts of him were scattered into all of them, leaving the sensation that he was known to those who had seen him only for the first time.

Jezebel did it as well, in a different way. She was immortal the way fire was, the way a flame was always hot and could give a man sustenance or turn his home to ash. There was nothing about her directly threatening, nothing that ached to do him or anyone harm. She had a different promise to her, a different heat to her fire that left men and women alike sweating.

“Soon, it will be too warm to enjoy it.” He was walking down the path he knew to take her. Their steps were oriented towards the dock.

There was something ageless in him, something out of step with time. The world spun on its dizzy, frantic axis and still he was there, as unrelenting, perhaps as unyielding, as granite, as immovable as stone. And yet at the same time, he was ephemeral, a wisp of smoke, the moving shadows on the surface of a lake -- beautiful, perhaps, to look at, but impossible to hold, to contain, to catch.

Jezebel made no effort to catch him, she had no waiting mason jar to fill up with his fireflies. She was the night air, smoothing over the hard lines of his rigid posture, a teasing lick of contact filled with promise. Even the way her hand curled into his arm was meant to admire, not possess --her touch was open ended, his to maintain, or break.

“I must confess,” she said with a musical hum of laughter and a seemingly incredulous little shake of her head. “If there is such a thing as too warm to enjoy it, I haven’t yet found it.”

“They called them black flag days,” he was talking about military drills. He was talking about one hundred degrees and sweltering. He was talking about moments that had passed in Summer monsoons that would simply not relent. There were days that even the most hardy thought they would expire. A black flag was pinned to poles and warned the soldiers not to try their drills.

Looking at her too-perfect face, he wondered if a black flag day could ever apply. He wondered, briefly, what moved beneath her skin and what it might feel like to be something other than what he was. If it would give freedom or maybe just the sort of perspective that had always followed his dreams. He realized, moments later, that the piece he had spoken had no context.

“They are the days that are too hot.” But her laughter felt warm and though he did not laugh with her, he smiled, briefly, because he missed what it felt like to have that sort of fire-starting chuckle roll through his chest.

Tag spoke of black flags, and without context it conjured a very different image to mind. She did not interrupt or inquire further, did not disturb his perusal of her face in profile. Content to let him look and also to let him keep his thoughts on what he found there to himself, she tipped her gaze up to him only at the last moment, meeting black with gold and the warm edge of a smile that said she was pleased he felt like looking.

The explanation came, and Jezebel gave that same soft, richly musical laugh. “Ah, see. Where I am from - originally - we also have black flags, but they are to warn you only when to stay out of the water.” It had to do with riptides and dangerous currents, but also the rise in water temperature that came when the volcano’s undersea vents released, temperatures that could boil a person alive without warning.

She thought about the way he had not denied a military background, and it was she who admired his profile in the half light of the moon as they traced the path to the left once more, towards the salt stained gusts of the moon-tossed sea. Picturing him, perhaps, in the same sorts of uniforms worn by the men who had visited their island most often, she guessed at what strange and foreign horrors he might have seen. Without explanation, her fingers pressed more firmly, fleetingly, into the muscle of his arm, and relaxed again.

“Away from the water?” he was intrigued, it showed in the way his gaze darkened as if to take away the light of himself so he could focus on what she said. He had been no sailor, nor had he been entrenched in swimming as a pastime. He tried to untangle what would have been so frightening in the water. There was marine life and there could be enormous tides.

“You must have many that would walk you home,” he said it in the wake of her hand, his attention moving ahead to chart their future steps. Black flag. A warning for heat, a warning for water. A warning for some intangible monster that moved in the physics of the world, threatening to rip a man from his shell.

His question, unspoken, stayed in between them.

“I come from a very small island in the middle of a very large ocean,” she explained at his prompting, and it was the first time she’d spoken of herself in any real detail for nearly as long as she could remember. The heat of her gaze slipped away, off to the left, where the line of buildings stopped abruptly at the shore. You could not yet see the shipyards, but in her mind she painted the portrait of her long lost home.

“When your home is so small, you are powerless against the sea, and at the same time you need it to survive. Fish and crabs and practically everything else we ate came from the water. You bathe in the water. Wash your clothes in the water. But the ocean, it’s all one thing, isn’t it? A blanket that covers the entire world with little bits of land peeking out here and there. You can find yourself drowned by a storm you can’t even hear. A mountain crumbles thousands of miles away and by the time the tidal wave reaches you, it’s taller than the tallest trees. Just because the surface looks calm does not mean that there aren’t great surges at war underneath, where you cannot see.”

She glanced at him then from the corner of her eyes, and her smile had the conspiratorial note of a shared secret. It suggested that perhaps her Shadow had more in common with the sea than he let on, and also that she would never expose him.

“The island was formed by a volcano, though. Is, actually, a volcano. So there is the constant threat from the angry mountain itself, spewing smoke and ash that sometimes chokes the sky and blocks out the sun for days, and at the same time we rely on its heat for warmth, the fertile black soil it creates to grow fruits for food and trees for shade. And sometimes, when the mountain is especially angry, it heats up the sea. To go into it on a black flag day is… to be cooked, like soup.”

Their different symbols then, were the same after all. A warning for heat. Jezebel smiled inwardly, noting without commenting that Tag himself was dressed all in black.

The question he did not ask hung between them, held up by the shared silence that, while thick, was not uncomfortable or stifling. She’d pressed his arm because she did not like to picture him as a soldier, at war, engaged in combat. Her tacit wish to keep him safe from harm. In time, she shook her head, her smile light. “Who would? Most likely. Who are given the opportunity? Just the one, so far.”
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You're driving me crazy
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Jezebel Calient
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2017 12:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

His attention was wrapped in the slip of the ocean front exposed to them during their walk. It was as if it was a visual for him as she described where she had come from. In some ways, he understood it. His country hadn’t been large, and much of the food depended upon water. Rice needed it, nearly knee-deep, and fish were raked in for the market.

Somewhere, along the line of their discussion, his other hand had slipped between his ribs to rest over where her fingers crossed his arm. The reciprocal squeeze was gentle, disappearing like a heartbeat away from the moment. Jezebel had the sort of heat any man could be consumed in if he considered it for too long. Even Tag was aware of the draw, of how his gaze took a few seconds longer than normal on her features when they talked. She was presented like a short-sighted answer he wasn’t yet ready for.

He was still in the empty cavern of what had happened, hearing the echoes of what had been. A man had to stay there long enough that he didn’t forget to contemplate the dark. A man could only be there so long before he lost his sanity.

She was a heartbeat, an opportunity, a promise. She could even be an answer, for an afternoon or an hour, but only for the right set of questions. Those questions had not yet been asked. Jezebel smiled, her fine spun golden lashes fluttering as she washed away the memory of a humid ocean breeze. It was nice, surprisingly, to speak of home. It didn’t hurt the way it once had, and the intensely quiet interest he’d shown in something so small made a long jagged edge somewhere inside her go soft.

The gentle press of his hand on hers was an unspoken promise, too, and she answered it with the faintest flare of her fingers.

They were there, their line of sight uninterrupted to the stairs which would lead up to her door. There was still enough ambient light that it did not seem like a beacon in a hopeless storm. Upon seeing it, he spoke to her like someone who was trying to unwrap a present without disturbing the paper that encased it. His fingertips gently peeled back the tape, unfolded the paper, and attempted to slide the object out so that the wrapping would remain as undisturbed as a shell.

“One day I will ask something of you,” his steps drew to a stop at the base of the stairs. He turned partly to face her, not scurrying away his posture or gaze from her at the point where he had to ask. His lips stayed, broken open just partly before he continued, “And I do not know if it will bring me happiness or sorrow.”

The walk was too short, their destination arriving all too quickly. As the final gentle slope of the road following the coast gave way and the small apartment complex came into view, Jezebel found herself wishing their steps would slow, that time would ease, that what little distance remained would take all night to traverse. Too soon, the street was crossed, the side door opened, the staircase revealed. Too soon, she found herself facing him, no longer tucked in close against his side.

He spoke, and Jezebel watched him, a curious flicker in her eyes like a candle’s flame teased by a gentle breath of wind. Her gaze was fastened to that dark strip of space between his lips in the moments between the announcement and its follow up, catching there like silky fabric on a nail, before she deliberately lifted it to meet his eyes.

“Is it my answer to your question, or what the answer means that concerns you?” Her tone could not have been more gentle, her fingers still made a loose and careful bracelet of his arm. With the angle changed between them, it brought the inside of her forearm against the outside of his, skin to skin from elbow to wrist.

“What it will mean,” because he did not believe that she had the answer. He believed it would come from himself, that she would be a tool to pry it out from his chest. Jezebel could not give him the answers that he wanted, but he felt she put a mirror up to him, one that brought in realizations if only he would allow them to sink in.

The Dark Man knew, by the give in her voice, that she was telling him to take care (because she cared). His smile broke the way the ground did when the sun had baked it and the surface finally relented, separating in a thin line that was infinitely deep. That was his smile for her, a small honest break in the world. He could feel her eyes, studying his mouth as if he was doing something more extraordinary than smiling.

Because his smile was extraordinary. It felt like a gift, a rare and precious jewel that had spilled almost unbidden into her outstretched hands, and she savored those seconds that it lingered. Little by little, the thick knots of sorrow and loss that held him down were being loosened, the tangled threads unraveled in painstaking degrees by supple, careful fingers.

She wondered, briefly, if she could free him. If he would let her.

“I will look forward to hearing this question, then,” she promised him, a gust of wind off the incoming tide setting her hair to rippling around her shoulders. A loose tendril caught in its fiercest teeth lifted, tickling at his forearm where fresh pink scars were still healing. She tilted her head towards the stairs, and though she was certain she knew the answer, Jezebel offered the invitation. “The view from the roof is beautiful.”

“Another time,” his form bowed towards her as he withdrew a step. Somehow there was a pat to her Summer-echo hold on his arm, a physical reminder that he was slipping away from her. Whether there was freedom or not his gaze never told her. They were dark windows into a story beginning to regain light. Soon there would be candles and soon the details of what was inside would come forward.

Tonight, there had been black flags, momentary smiles, and the promise that one day there would be a question. She looked forward to hearing it. The wind swept that statement away, it brushed her locks of hair and told him that he needed to keep walking. That he needed to let the space between them grow until he stood on his own porch. From there, he would look into the distance and know that there she was standing by a beacon with a voice that was impossibly gentle.

It was the answer she’d expected, and when he withdrew, she let him. Her hold on him, never once demanding or possessive, broke immediately, leaving only the stains of summer heat in their wake. Jezebel caught the errant strands that danced in the wind, tossing them back behind one shoulder, helping him re-establish the distance he sought.

She lifted one sun-kissed shoulder in the moonlight, smiling at him in a way that said she’d known he would refuse and she wasn’t angry. “It wasn’t a limited time offer, Tag,” she said lightly. “The right time will come.” Leaning there in the doorway, Jezebel would watch him until he melted into the rest of the shadows. Before he disappeared into the night, though, she offered him a final blessing. “Be safe until we meet again.”
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You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Time passed, seasons changed. There had been dancing. There was lunch, once, in the Marketplace. They'd rung in the New Year together. And there had been more than a dozen walks, chance encounters that lead naturally into comfortable silences between conversations.

On this particular evening, there had been talk of weeds and wishes, of flowers and the fresh new born promises of Spring.

Always, the gentle press of her fingers along the inside of his arm.

***

The feeling of her hand on his arm keeps the world centered. He didn’t show it, his gaze dropped to the ground to anchor himself as they passed through the threshold of the inn. He could feel the heat of her, the warm invitation of her hand on his arm and he wondered how much of that had been imagined. There were a thousand stories, but none were ending like this one.

“Where do you go, when you are not with me?” He asked it, and the question had the same beautiful simplicity of the question a child asks an adult. His eyes followed her face, her ready smile she had perfected into a painting. He stepped in the wake of her gait, turning the attention of his gaze to the blue black shuffling of color that made the horizon.

Her grip on the fabric of his shirt relaxed the moment he’d rejoined her, what had been a sudden clutch easing into a gentle hold once more. She used the other hand to pull curtains of fiery red over the opposite shoulder, taking care to free it so that it did not catch and tangle between them, binding the two of them that much closer together.

His question drew a thoughtful pause, the subtle hum of anticipation on her full lips as she considered an answer. “It depends,” said Jezebel at last, searching the stars above as though the response she needed might be written among them. “Sometimes, I am with my son. Sometimes, I encounter people who have problems I can solve. Most times, though, I am alone.”

“And when you are alone, those times?” He felt something suck and then draw just beneath his feet and realized it was a cool front, a gentle chill with the promise of a rain. The point of his toes was in the direction of her home and not his own. He was presumably escorting her home, and was following that path he knew for her as if on autopilot.

At some point, he wondered where the crickets had gone, or if they had huddled together beneath the leaves. The hot brush of her hand made him wonder if she would steam in the rain or be tempered by it. His eyes were forward, the path ahead a gentle twist. He liked the little road curve they were coming up to, the way the trees' roots spilled partly onto the walkway. It reminded him of everything that could be unexpected, and how the unexpected wasn’t sudden.

“I like the ocean, because it reminds me of home. I like the earth, because even in the dead of winter, it’s warm and rich and full of potential.” Dropping her eyes from the sky, her gaze slid at an angle towards him, her smile finding ground there as it spread. “I like to be outside, near the earth, away from noise and technology and people.” She curled her fingers into his bicep, one after the other pressing in lightly like a descending scale played on a piano.

“Which reminds me. You care for the earth as I do,” it was a statement, not a question, harkening back to conversations they’d had before. “And I have a lot of free time. If you’ll let me, I’d like to help you with your garden this coming spring.”

“I used to,” he corrected, “I am not a gardener anymore,” he no longer thought of himself as a man who took care of things, waiting for the Western wind to come home. There was only the present, overgrown and vicious with crab grass and wild onions. There were no tomatoes anymore. There would be no carrots that could be upset.

“There are times I am hired to clear a field.” It was something he liked, though it was strange. He watched the way a fire had been corralled into its arena, munching through the wildgrass and leaving black threads in its wake. There were times, also, he found white bones in the field and wondered where they came from and how old they were. Perhaps they belonged to a mouse or a small coyote. Once, he saw an armadillo, and its shell looked like a bowl that had been brutally shattered into eraser-sized discs of white, spread into the field like plastic trash.

He deflected, “I will help you with yours.”

Her laugh was rich and vibrant, never raucous. Her laughter was never cruel, it never ridiculed. It was a gentle sigh, an expression of true pleasure in the way it rolled off her tongue. It sounded like music, the harmonizing vibrato notes to an opera sung just offstage. “You know where I live. There is no earth there for a garden. Perhaps, we will build one together, then, one that is not yours or mine but ours.” She smiled easily, encouraging. “Or perhaps at least you’ll let me build my garden in your soil.” Her eyes flashed like heat lightning, her smile dancing the enigmatic edge between flirtatious and kind.

“My gardens are rare,” he offered, feeling her encouragement but not knowing exactly... How to understand it. If it was the warmth of her being, or an invitation. Was it an invitation he wanted? He didn’t look at her.

The dark man kept walking. He… missed the West. He missed the portrait of her despite how long it had been, but that was the tide of his soul. Tag was slow, deliberate, yet he wasn’t feeling lost. There was something about Jezebel which calmed him, and he wondered if it was still him being foolish. If he was still the same young man that loved all of the wild things which would never stay with him, which would never love him the way he loved them back. He was reminded of her fire by the brush of her fingertips on his bicep. One of her fingers slipped under the sleeve of his black shirt, touching against the skin the sun did not brand so harshly.

His eyes were on the moon, “But, if you want to make one…” he imagined them on their knees, trying to convince a carrot strangled to near-death by weeds that there was hope. Don’t be upset, little carrot, there is still hope. There is always hope.

Isn’t there?


From the West to the far West, so far West that it was nearly East again. Jezebel spoke not of prairie skies and wide open spaces, she spoke of jungle dense forests and earth that steamed restlessly at all hours of the day and night, of rolling waves churned to boiling by the heat of magma that seeped just beneath the surface, of staggering volcanoes rimmed in their own atmosphere of ash-laden clouds. She spoke of far off, tropical escapes, remote and idyllic in their sheer distance, of exotic mysteries and tribes untouched by modernization.

“I do,” the fluid melody of her voice prompted him as they followed the expected, unexpected bend in the road. “You can clear the field, and I can coax life from the soil once more.”

The road hadn’t changed, but it felt uniquely complicated. They passed the distinct bend in the road, they progressed onward and to that well lit spot that was illuminated by the light of her room at the top of the stairs. He felt that it had slipped up to him, unexpected, the tide of it biting at his ankles.

“I should go,” it wasn’t a fact when he said it. His words were soft and then they turned, became a separate statement, “Should I go?” Something already burned was about him. Something already of ash, of twilight and a thousand little promises. His arm carried the promise of a coyote, his skin was sprinkled with the prairie and somewhere, under all of it, was baby powder and crayons. The dark man was too old, too worn, to be anything but what he was.

“You can’t yet,” Jezebel laughed, and it was the warmth of a summer breeze in spring, promising the heat that would come with time. The press of her fingers on his arm was beseeching. “I have something for you, remember?” He’d promised that he was patient, after all. She tipped her head towards the door, but made no move to urge or force him. “Would you like to come inside, at least for a moment?”

Twin dark eyes surveyed the face of her home, as if for the first time.

“Yes.” His attention dropped to her face and he waited for the door to open. The dark man was a statue, impossibly still, impossibly patient. His gaze followed the flame of her smile as she asked if he remembered. She had something for him but… he’d not brought her anything. It was unexpected, but he didn’t look shaken by the disparity.

He waited for the door to open. Gently.
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...


Last edited by Jezebel Calient on Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:03 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The smile that spread over her mouth was pleasant surprise; she’d half expected him to say that he would wait outside. She studied his immobile form in profile, the way the light about the door cast its shadows over his face; a man that was made of two worlds. Light and shadow, East and West.

Jezebel drew a fingertip down the side of the number pad to the left of the door handle and then quickly but gently keyed in the four digit code. There was the sound of the lock releasing, a quiet metallic hiss of contentment, and she pulled it open, gaining access to the stairwell.

Her hand fell away from his arm at last as she ascended the stairs quietly ahead of him. Her steps were soft, barely seeming to make an impression on the pretty tile work. At the top was another door, another set of digits to press lovingly into the keypad, another hiss of climax as another lock gave way beneath her fingers.

She held the door open for him, admitting him into an elegant top floor apartment. The decoration was evocative of a Spanish hacienda; cool terracotta tile flooring, walls that weren’t adobe but gave the appearance of it all the same. It opened into the living room, the far wall of which was floor to ceiling glass overlooking the ocean, sliding glass doors leading onto a gorgeous, inviting patio. The kitchen was to the left, all open floor plan and center islands that doubled as prep space and breakfast counter. To the right was a hallway that lead to the bedrooms, and in the center stood a couch of plush, buttery soft leather and a rug that looked soft enough to sleep in. Turning to face him as she slipped off her shoes, Jezebel smiled. “Would you care for something more to drink?”

“Please.” He didn’t specify, and he was trying not to feel uncomfortable. The place was new, it smelled of spices and a warm undercurrent of somewhere else. His eyes calculated all the items around them and he realized, in a startling way, that he had not come to observe her home or furniture. He swallowed the thought, like lead, sitting at the center of the couch as if he had arrived at an interview. The soldier who had survived wars was dwarfed by well-meaning furniture.

His weight shifted and he slipped his phone out of his jacket pocket. He needed a few minutes to navigate it, but the time was fine. He didn’t need to leave, there were no text messages or voices recorded to tell him something was amiss. Somewhere there was a smoldering, eating up the edges of his skin and gnawing into the moment.

“Please, make yourself comfortable,” she gestured the living room. There were other chairs available as well, but the couch was unquestionably the most comfortable. She slipped out of her coat, hung it on a rack by the door made of twisted driftwood, and turned for the kitchen in a soft swirl of her skirt.

This place was her private sanctuary. None but her son and his father had ever darkened its threshold, and the place wasn’t staged for company accordingly. There were no showy photographs of exotic vacations, only two hung on the wall -- one of her son, and one of he and his father when he was just a baby. The man seemed uncomfortable, and at the same time, completely riveted by the bundle of life held gingerly in his arms.

Along another wall, there were built in shelves that held an impressive array of books of every description. Some old, some new, some dusty academic tomes and some clearly intended for small children. There was no rhyme nor reason to their organization.

On silent feet she padded into the kitchen. She poured him two drinks, one was just water, the second, a glass of pineapple infused rum from the remote regions of her native land. Both were poured over ice. She brought each of these to him - one in either hand - and set both on the adjacent table for him to choose between them. “I’ll be right back,” she promised, and then, looking back at him over her shoulder as she headed for the hallway, the redhead smiled, gesturing the patio with a jut of her chin. “If you’d be more comfortable out there, the tiles are heated.” She offered, given his stiff and solitary posture there in the middle of the couch.

He took up the offer of the patio and the drinks. It was the pineapple one he carried, wandering along the little patio with the glass half hugged to his body. He was studying the books she had-- he was still learning English, but he knew enough to understand the titles. Sometimes he learned the world alongside Penny as a peer. Most of the time, he was her father.

He stepped up to the doorway to bend down, setting his glass down and unlacing his boots. When he stood back up the drink was in hand and he wandered, his socked feet making paths along the heated patio. The dark man felt newer than he had in a long moment. He was not the dad that Penny saw or the stoic sentry that hung over Ame at almost every hour. The dark man was, as unlikely as it may seem, just a man sipping a drink on a patio. He was relieved in the quiet of it, but he drank to dull the uncertainty of her reemerging. He wanted a cigarette but it seemed, somehow, rude against the beautiful backdrop. He couldn’t bring himself to light one.

On the balcony there were pillars that were wide enough to sit on, overlooking the sea. The tall ships of the docks were clearly visible just to the left, pirate ships and small Asian sloops berthed cheek by jowl with large military vessels and crafts that had to have come from distant planets, perhaps the future. Jezebel liked the incongruity of it, the strange bustle of all different times and places overlapping one another on Rhydin’s shores. On the far left corner was a staircase leading up to the roof.

Jezebel re-emerged just a few minutes later, carrying a gift bag made of canvas. It was the size and approximate shape of a reusable shopping bag, though it had been stuffed with tissue paper in different shades of blue and a wide gray ribbon secured the handles in a looping bow. Her amber gaze surveyed the living room and then found him outside, stepping out onto the balcony with her gift in tow.

She joined him at the railing overlooking the water, the twin moons hung heavy over the water, its ripples breaking the light into a thousand shivering tiny diamonds. “Beautiful out here, isn’t it? This is the reason I chose this place.” Standing close but not so close as to crowd him, the bag was offered into the space between. “This is for you. I traded with some newcomers because I thought--hoped-- it would make you smile.”

He took a swallow of his drink and then set it upon the railing that was closest before he accepted the gift. He didn’t know. Perhaps he would have brought something had he. Holding the bag he nodded, aligning his spine with one of the columns. His weight slouched against it as he worked past the tissue paper and towards the gift. The dark man looked like a statue, except his expression was not so severe. There was, somewhere about his lips, the indication of a smile.

“I did not know.” He meant that as the reason that he had nothing to give her, in kind. His focus kept on the bag. It was the polite thing to do.

“You weren’t supposed to,” she said with a gentle laugh like music in the evening wind. “That’s what makes it a surprise.” Jezebel’s gifts were never given in expectation of reciprocation. She didn’t adhere to the particular high holy days of any specific religion, she didn’t necessarily observe birthdays. She found things that reminded her of other people and she acquired them, giving them away in hopes of bringing smiles of joy or at least some laughter.

There were two items in the bag. The first was an antique silver cigarette case. Smooth and sleek, it was a small rectangle that opened on a hinge along one side of its top. It was pierced on both of the longest, widest sides with a Japanese kanji, and along the bottom was a worn stamp that said “Silver 95” and “K. Hattori”. “It’s from about a hundred and ten years ago, according to the appraiser I asked,” she said softly.


(source)

The second item was larger, made of a smooth polished wood inlay in at least three contrasting colors. It was about ten inches tall, a small rectangular box on tiny wooden legs. Cut into two sections, the upper part was longer, comprised of light wood with dark inlay, and the shorter, bottom section was its mirror opposite, dark with light. On each face of the top part was a different beautiful nature scene; two flowers and a butterfly, a water way with a sailboat from an earlier time, two small huts etched into the base of a mountain with trees in the distance, another small dwelling on the mouth of a river. Each design opened at an angle, revealing a compartment with slots perfectly sized to hold five cigarettes. The bottom compartment opened like a puzzle box, only when pressure was applied at a certain joint, revealing drawers that were just big enough for a lighter, or matches.


(Source)

“It’s beautiful. It is… a lot to give.” He examined each item carefully. He knew the weight of metal and the difference between manufactured and hand made. After several minutes he rewrapped them into the bag and set it on the ground, his arms crossing his chest as he leaned against the column, “Thank you.”

He was there, for several moments, before his arms opened. It offered a place for her, and embrace of gratitude but, perhaps, it was always more than just gratitude. Jezebel was a sun and everyone, he knew, wished to embrace it.
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“You’re welcome,” her response was warm, and it carried no expectation one way or the other. She only hoped that he sincerely enjoyed the gifts, that they brought him a smile. She watched as he pored over each item in detail, inspecting its make and craftsmanship. She had no way of knowing that these items came from several hundred years after his time in Japan, only that he seemed disposed to things that were older, things that required care and patience to craft.

Settled in a casual lean against the railing, she watched the way the moonlight haloed his dark hair, picking diamonds from among the rich dark strands as easily as it did the ocean beyond them, simply enjoying his proximity. The way he opened his arms was unexpected, and the smile it granted him was positively radiant accordingly.

In the same slow, careful steps one might use to approach a skittish stray, Jezebel moved into those arms, her fingers sliding slowly, carefully over his hips as if they might start dancing.

“Thank you,” the gratitude was earnest, no different than what friends gave one another, but he found his lips pausing at the shore of her face. It was calm, it expected him and yet it didn’t. He felt he could have done anything and she would have smiled in a quizzical way, examining the outcome of their mouths. Whether they had connected and shared stories and, if they had, what the criss cross patterning of their words really meant.

His weight shifted away from the column, away from the ocean and towards her bones. It seemed as if they would dance, except that he kissed her. One hand scooped the side of her face so that his fingertips touched the smoldering roots, the flames of her hair. He had meant to dance with her, he had thought that was exactly what he would do until the moment came where he didn’t.

“You’re welcome. I just wanted to make you--” the soft flow of her words was cut off by the sudden joining of their lips. The kiss was unexpected but wholly welcome, her body pressing subtly closer much of its own volition. His fingers in her hair felt like an itch long neglected at long last scratched, his mouth the deep well his calm demeanor had for so long promised. Still waters run deep, she thought not for the first time as she responded to his kiss, trying to balance the long-stoked embers of her desire for him with the understated reserve he required.

In the end she only partially managed it, her hands circling his waist and then moving gently up his back as her mouth met his over and over with an eagerness that was as earnest as it was hungry.

She responded in kind, so he didn’t stop. His mouth tried to find all the moments hers held, his arms closing around her in a way that wasn’t to keep her, but to ask her to stay. To tell her she was wanted even if she already knew it by the way his mouth met hers. He could feel her hands, moving like a recon unit, spying out places on his waist and back which were safe to linger.

He didn’t expect drowning to feel pleasant. Their lips broke, allowing for an easier breath to panting between them. He offered, as a premature release, “I can go. The babysitter likes to be home early.” Sometimes a woman needed an excuse so that they could say no. The way one arm was circled around her, and the closeness of his mouth… well, he was hoping not to go.

Jezebel’s smile was suffused with warmth as she gently shook her head. She made no attempt to disentangle herself from his embrace, the supple fingers of one hand lowering from his back only to rise again, dragging lightly up his chest to fold along the edge of his jaw, tracing its prominent ridge with the backs of her knuckles. Her touch held even more velvet care than she showed everything else she touched, that lovers’ caress that was afforded to the people you cared for most.

“Actually,” she said quietly, “I am hoping that maybe your babysitter doesn’t mind working late.”

“Like you, I am hoping,” he admitted. His right hand stayed at her back while his left dug his phone out of his jacket pocket. Tag was, after all, a lefty. She would have to be patient with him, he still had difficulty working a cellphone. His thumb paused and then clicked, letter by letter, a message. The screen of his phone illuminated the side of her body, still drawn up close to his as he typed.

Message sent. They were waiting, suspending in a babysitter moment together.

“Don’t… “ But that was all he could say, that was all the warning he had to give to her. Don’t. Now, he was waiting for his phone to ring.

While they waited out the verdict, Jezebel enjoyed this new proximity between them. She laid her temple against the column of his neck, inhaling the shadow scent of him, nightfall and cigarettes, the faint traces of brandy and, fainter still, his baby son. Her long lashes fluttered, golden wings brushing his skin in the soft caresses of a butterfly’s wings, one arm still wrapped around his waist and the other hand pressed flat against his chest, just over his heartbeat.

“Don’t….what?” She asked softly, lifting her head away from his collar just enough to look up at him. Her molten amber eyes caught the the moonlight, reflecting its rays like a sudden sunburst.

His eyes were on her, the ocean was somewhere behind them, splashing as it always did. It was the clock that never stopped, the measure by which all things came and went. It was the ocean. His fingertips spread, his hand pressed her against him, further, “Don’t make any promises you won’t keep.” He said it for himself, not her.

Greater than a promise was a vow, one that scattered to the wind given a few weeks. Promises and love, infatuation and moments like this… they were temporary. Or could be. He had always thought of the world in terms of permanence until lately. Now he felt the ebb and release of a full moon and knew that a world could be shed to the dark side every evening like the moon. At that moment? It was them, and he still felt the impression of her lips on his and found himself wanting.

“I’ll--” but his words were cut by the humm-buzz of his cellphone. Darkening the screen after he read it, he fit it into the back pocket of his pants. The sentence he meant to say had a new, regretful structure, “I have to go.”

Jezebel nodded, disappointed but unsurprised. The call of children came first; she was only afforded these liberal hours because her son was spending time with his father. Tag had no such reprieve, whatever spontaneity he may have felt left to the mercy of other people’s schedules.

Recklessly, she considered offering to go with him. The notion was cast aside as too forward, too aggressive, too much. Still, the desire was there, and it could be felt in the way she clung to him just a tiny bit tighter.

Releasing her grasp on his frame slowly, reluctantly, she nodded. “I understand. Can I have one more before you do?” The way one corner of her mouth curved up was playful, hopeful. He wasn’t the only one who found themselves wanting.

((adapted from live play with Tag. Thank you!))
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...


Last edited by Jezebel Calient on Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:55 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“One more?” He was uncertain at first but then, as it dawned on him, he smiled and nodded for her. His mouth swooped in gently to her earlobe, catching it carefully with his lips, his tongue giving brush of it before his mouth moved for hers. He paused, the gateway of his being considering what was ahead just long enough before he kissed her.

Last year, he would have never imagined this place, this fire, his tongue moved along volcanic rifts that still hinted towards ash. If it was a warning, he didn’t heed it.

Their lips broke, “I have to go,” he breathed.

A pleasing shiver snaked its way down her back, putting a subtle sway into her hips. “Mm,” she practically purred as his mouth moved against her ear, his breath warm and intoxicating at her temple.

She kissed him as deeply as she dared, as deeply as he let her, his tongue finding no reluctance or reticence in the heated recesses of her velvet mouth. When he broke the second time, she let him, releasing him. “Goodnight then, Shadow,” she said affectionately. “I will look forward to the next time we meet.”

He wanted to say something, but couldn’t. All he had for her was a smile, distant and patient. The dark man watched her smolder, one of his hands sweeping over his mouth in a reflection of what had happened. There hadn’t been enough alcohol to excuse it, and though he did not regret drawing her in and kissing her, he could not pinpoint why he had done it. All he knew was that the had wanted to taste smoke, and that her mouth was full of fire.

“Goodnight.” His hand squeezed her hip as he stepped away, steering his thoughts to the task of opening the door. To the task of walking. It was one foot, then the other.

“Tag,” she called him back, softly. The woman made living flame had stepped back against the railing, giving him what safety of her distance she could afford. It was in the stepping back that her bare foot had brushed it, the bag with its treasures that had been his reason for coming. Jezebel bent now, dropping to a crouch as her fingers found the handles anew, and she offered it out to him on the rising. Her smile was still warm, but had lost a measure of its intensity, turned gentle and comforting once more.

“Don’t forget.”

“Oh.” He agreed, trying not to look embarrassed as his hands slipped over hers and took ownership of the handles. The package was adjusted, both loops caught by his left hand so that it hung off of two fingers, batting against his thigh as he stepped back. Off of the patio and back inside, he started towards her front door. Once he was at the doorway, he didn’t know what to say.

His voice stumbled over itself, “Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome, anytime.” If it had the tenor of an invitation more so than a response, it did not entirely specify what it was he was invited to. She ran her fingers over her hair, curbing strands that had been lured into dance by the incoming late night tide as she smoothed them down behind one ear.

Her amber eyes danced, too, a candle flame in the starlight as she watched him retreat, moving away from the balcony railing to follow him only after he’d gotten several paces ahead. Jezebel joined him at the doorway, standing to one side as he put his shoes back on. “Please be safe on your way home.”

“Yes.” He replied, his right foot being the last to wiggle into his shoes as he stood at her doorway. His left hand caught the doorknob and he felt, at that moment, that he was a boy, wary of being caught by her father. There was no one to catch them, no one to shame him for the moment. It had been too long that he’d been kissed but his lips were still a spark against her flame. He was not outmatched, only unprepared.

The surprise of her lips still tingled. He stepped, halfway out the threshold as he looked at her, “I… make breakfast very well.” A beat, then the invitation, “Would you be there, this morning? At nine it would only be us.”

Humor flared in the depths of her eyes, a flicker of movement like a solar flare. She smiled again, her gaze lowering with a soft flutter of thick golden lashes. She lifted her attention to his face once more, and her expression was a soft mix of surprise, pleasure, and assent. “Yes,” she said a moment later. “I ...would love to have breakfast with you. Tomorrow, at nine?”

“Yes,” his right hand drew back, resting on his hip as he looked at her. It seemed that there were a hundred things needing to be said, but none of them happened. He nodded to her and then leaned forward, hesitating at her mouth to kiss her goodnight. He was waiting for her to tilt towards him, for the world to lose balance. He did not assume that her flame welcomed the shadow.

Her mouth was there to meet him, closing the rest of the distance as he leaned in. Pressing her lips to his one last time, she took a moment to savor it, the taste of him, the feel of it, the lingering scent of cigarettes and pineapple rum. Her fingers curled around him again as they kissed, enveloping his shadows in her light.

Afterward, he withdrew, stepping out of her yawning doorway. He said, as a reminder for them both, “Tomorrow morning.” At the point where the sun no longer burned the skin in sunrise.

It broke too soon, always too soon, but not nearly soon enough for the babysitter that waited for him. Jezebel smiled, and let him go. “See you then.”
_________________
T-t-t-twistin' like a flame in a slow dance, baby
You're driving me crazy
Come on, little honey...
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