Fire Ch. 10byEnithermon©
Jairus listened as Thea's breath labored. She soldiered on behind him at a steady clip, and he occasionally caught glimpses of condensing air out of the corner of his eye. She was out of eyesight, but near enough for him to feel the persistent shadow of her presence against his back, making his skin prickle in response. Jairus cast a glance back over his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow in her general direction. "Are who, what?" He intoned dryly.
He caught the disgruntled look she shot at him before he turned away and was forced to quash a smile. She sighed heavily and responded in a soft voice, vexation silvering her tone.
"You know what I mean." She was too on edge for his teasing, so he relented.
"Yes. They are."
"Oh." She paused and he waited with amused patience for the question he knew was coming. "Would it be an insult to ask if we're safe?"
"Yes." She let out something between a sigh and a soft but frustrated growl. He couldn't quite hold back the smirk which such a sound produced. It amused him, and was...endearing.
She was still behind him, barely visible in the periphery of his vision, but he could feel the heavy weight that settled over her shoulders as if it had been laid over his own. He didn't need to see her expression to know what it was. That fact sobered him.
"I will take care of it."
She made another un-interpretable sound and he cast one more glance back toward her. She was watching the road, her brow furrowed. Whether in concentration or irritation, he couldn't quite tell. Her eyes seemed darker than usual, more so when set against her pale skin. The natural tan warmth which usually graced her cheeks had been drained from her, leaving her wan and tired. The only color left was the unnatural pink flush in her lips and in the hollows of her cheeks, put there by the winter's chill. It made her look doll-like...fragile. He looked back to the road, ignoring the twisting sensation in his gut and sighed. If poppet she was, then it was not of the porcelain variety. She was not so easily broken...and for that he could be grateful.
He smiled again, faintly, remembering having called her that once. What had he said? Ah yes, she'd asked him to cut her down... that was it, and her word choice had amused him, as much as he could have been amused in that particular situation. She'd felt like a rag-doll in his arms then, fragile, weakened...needing him. He felt another strange stirring...he was proud of her strength, approved of it...yet....
She stumbled behind him, cursing softly, and pulling him out of his meandering thoughts. He blinked once and found himself again in the present.
They were making their way along the river road, and he took in the dark swirl of crows lifting like a black mist from the trees ahead of them. A murder of crows. His lips twitched, though this time without humor. He watched their westward flight and surveyed the wide scar of uneven snow and ice which marked out the width of the river's path, and allowed the vacant whiteness of it to blanket his troubled thoughts, clearing his mind.
The road they took was the same road Jairus had been tailed along before, and it was painfully slow work; the rutted and slush covered roads made the effort less than pleasant. He could just as easily have bundled her into his arms and made the journey less arduous, or dull, but he was more than sure they were being followed, and had no intentions of letting that fact go unpunished. 'Indeed, that is what my mind should be on,' he chided himself halfheartedly.
At this point avoidance was preposterous. They would find his home, it was only a matter of time. Unless he took care of the issue himself...which he had every intention of doing, and very soon at that. Thus it was that they found themselves trudging along the road's edge, cold and damp.
She fell in further behind him until once again he felt more than saw her hovering at his shoulder.
They had once again receded back into the silence which had thus far accompanied them on their wearying journey home. Thea chewed her lip and tugged her cloak tighter around her, trying and failing to block out the damp chill. She'd spent most of the trip watching his back, in the literal sense, and using his foot prints to ease her own. The snow hadn't had a chance to build up much on the road proper, though the banks rose up high on either side. She felt as if they were being funneled along a narrow channel. The thought made her nervous. She felt trapped, more so because she knew they were hemmed in from behind by those who were following. The dark wall of Jairus's cloak blocking the view before her wasn't easing her mind much either.
Her rational mind acknowledged she was safe. Jairus at least would not be hampered by a few snow drifts or the miserable slushy mess beneath their feet. Yet this knowledge did little to keep her insides from knotting with worry. She dared a glance behind her, the first in a long, long while....and still nothing. Just the grey-white of old snow and the black of night and of the naked branches tangling in the woods around them.
Where were the men? How could he tell they were being followed?
She smiled to herself. That's what he would say if she asked, she knew. Thea watched his dark, broad shoulders. His hood had slid back and she noted the way the short hairs on his neck sloped inward in a sharp V. She smiled at a freckle just to the left of the V. The freckle struck her as somehow too human for him, too odd and imperfect. How 'not human' was he? she wondered. She also wondered how much he'd been changed, or if he had at all. What had he been like as a human? How much would it change her if....if...well, it wouldn't matter. She probably couldn't bring herself to do such a thing as it was...if such a thing he actually thought to do.
Thea continued to worry her lower lip absently. Who could say what he meant, or how much her own strange fancies had befuddled her mind and made her hear and see what she thought she wanted to.
She shook her head to clear it--trying and failing-- of the unnerving and titillating thoughts flitting through her mind.
"What will you do with them?" Her voice was soft, and she wondered if he could have even heard her, but he turned his head slightly to the side.
She pursed her lips at his unrepentant vagueness, even if it had been expected. And she knew with certainty that it was unrepentant....he was unrepentant. She had the strange feeling that he had always been that way...human or not. She couldn't resist the smile that pulled at her lips again at the realization. She decided she secretly liked that about him, though she'd probably never admit to it. But her smile was brief and she let out an undignified 'erp' as her heel slipped on a bit of wet ice causing her legs to buckle beneath her.
She blinked owlishly up at him before turning her gaze to the arm that held her steady.
"Thank you," she murmured. He nodded and released her, letting her wobbled back onto her feet. As much as he wanted to, it wouldn't do to let his hands linger, or treat her any more gently than he already had. There were enough eyes trained on them, he didn't need more.
He smirked down at her as she caught herself and straightened with an embarrassed grimace. Had she been an actual apprentice he'd probably have let her fall, both for his own amusement and her education. A lesson in watching where the hell you were going.
Not that he'd have faulted her either way. If she was distracted, then she had every right to be. She had passed through some very difficult moments these last few nights. Yet she'd handled herself admirably, better than many would have. He'd seen youths barely younger than her lose the contents of their stomachs, or even consciousness when faced with death. He also knew it wouldn't do to tell her that. She'd made it clear that this was not something she had any desire to hear, and he had no opinion on the matter to make an issue of it one way or another. If she had no desire to continue putting herself in harm's way, then so much the better.
She cleared her throat. "Sorry." She added with a shrug. His eyes caught a spot of red where her chapped lower lip had split, and he watched riveted as her tongue darted out to erase the mark. He felt a different sort of stirring, one which sent a shiver along his spine and made his finger twitch to touch her again.
"You've nothing to be sorry for." She shifted restlessly, her large doe eyes gazing up into his.
It took a moment for him to realize that he had been staring. He broke her gaze and turned away, continuing along the half frozen, half sodden road. He grimaced. He really would prefer to travel more quickly, but then he'd lose his quarry, a quarry who thought they were being ever so clever as they trailed behind in the trees along the side of the road.
She was silent again for a good while before he heard her clear her throat behind him. He smiled at the expanse of gray before him as he waited for her to unburden herself of the worries he knew were still plaguing her.
"Why...ah, how come Darius and his men were gone?" He'd accuse her of fretting...but the fact that Darius had left the city concerned him somewhat as well. Not too very much, as Jairus had what the man was looking for stumbling along behind him, but he'd been curious about that when Marcus had informed him before his meeting.
"Who's to say. We can only hope they've tired of the hunt, done the intelligent thing, and gone home to prepare for the next step in this silly game."
"War, my dear."
"War? Because of me?" She sounded shocked, at least if the breathless quality of her voice was to be taken as any indicator.
"No, you're merely a signifier of what's to come. This scramble to find you is just part of a larger bid for power as each side attempts to secure their positions."
"I see...it's odd that they would worry about me then...if they all want me dead, why should it be a point of contention? They do...right?"
He clenched his jaw. "I do not know all of their intentions. Darius certainly...the others...I can only surmise."
"Do you think the others want something else...that..." She trailed off, and he wondered what she had thought better about saying.
"What?" "It's nothing...it's better to be safe than sorry...right?"
"I would have to agree with that sentiment. Come." He turned slightly and motioned that she should follow him down a narrow side road. He would leave her soon, though he was loathe to do it. He knew these were Othwyn's men who were tailing them, so at least she was in no immediate danger if by some miracle one should slip past him.
He snatched her up the moment they were hidden from view. She made a soft sound of surprise, but was quick to recover and wrapped her arms around his neck, tucking her head against his shoulder as he slipped into the woods, immediately picking up speed. He would leave her close to the house, past the village, and return to wait on Othwyn's people alone. He would feel better knowing she was safely home.
"You're a bit bossy you know that?" She muttered against his shoulder. He didn't answer except to smile thinly at the top of her head.
He was focused on moving as swiftly and silently as possible through the bare and blackened trees. He was concentrating well enough to keep them from slamming into any stray branches, but only barely. It was made rather difficult by the distracting warmth of the body pressed trustingly against his, and by the long fingers moving unconsciously and teasingly against the back of his neck. He found himself suddenly aware of the fact that not once since the day he'd found his bed empty had he tasted her. That thought, and the nearness of her body, her soft warmth, caused a surge of hungry desire to flood through him.
'What incredibly poor timing' he thought sardonically. This was not the time for such thoughts. However, even as he reminded himself of this all important fact, Jairus was struck by an image of her pinned against a tree while he arched over her like some half starved raptor, his fangs buried in her throat. His body responded to the image appropriately.
Her arms tightened around him as if she could sense his thoughts, her fingers weaving into his hair. He looked down to find her staring back up at him, her amber eyes swirling with curious heat. He fought the irresistible urge to drown in those eyes, in that heat and struggled to reign in the fierce hunger which swept over him in slow dark waves. This would not do at all.
He slowed and they found themselves in a small clearing. He decided that they were close enough. If he carried her any longer he might do something foolish. The cold might not bother him, but she was still susceptible to it, particularly if he lost his head and started trying to remove articles of her clothing to get at the exquisite flesh beneath.
Thea watched his face as he lowered her to the ground, his arms lingering around her waist as she steadied herself, her own hands resting against his chest. She knew this was where they parted, but she was reluctant to leave his side. Even dark and silent, his presence comforted her.
There was also something in his expression, something she hadn't seen, she realized, for some time. Desire, fire, anger, humor, even that chilling nothingness...those things she had certainly seen...but not this. It was a stark and naked hunger. Her stomach twisted, and her head tilted unconsciously in wordless assent.
She let out a small gasp of anticipation as he caught her chin in his fingers. But, instead of moving to gain better access to her throat as she expected, he tilted her face towards his and brought his mouth hard and hot against her own.
His mouth covered her, his tongue easily prying her unresisting lips and teeth apart. Though his fingers held her lightly, gently, the kiss was anything but. He was all heat, hard and relentless, and she softened against him in eager submission, letting him take her as he would. Thea felt his elongated fangs against her tongue as she answered his hungry kiss with an urgent one of her own. The sign of his hunger, sharp against her lips, made her shiver with anxious desire and she groaned as he pulled her in tight against him, molding her body to his, drawing her steadily into a dark, spiraling haze of need.
He released her just as suddenly, and she gasped as his mouth ripped unkindly from her, leaving her alone and unsteady in empty space, her legs wobbling and swaying beneath her. He had stepped back and she looked dazedly up at him. He nodded in a curt perfunctory way, as if coldly satisfied with his work and that bemused her all the more.
"Do I leave then?" She asked softly, once she had found her voice. She received another curt nod. She must not have hid her disappointment well because his icy features softened until they were just cool...normal, for him at least.
"It shouldn't take too long. I'll be home long before sunup."
She gave her own curt nod and suppressed a smile. The coldness of his expressions no longer bothered her, and certainly not when it was so obvious that the shell of ice was really only there to hold the fire at bay. She could still feel the heat of it on her lips. Her eyes flicked down, catching a motion at his waist and she blinked as he pulled his knife belt out from beneath his cloak. It was dark out, and her vision obscured, but the hilt glinted in the moonlight in a strange yet familiar way.
He stepped in, his body inches from hers. Her eyes turned back up to his gaze. It was intense, but still controlled. His nearness made her skin buzz, and she wondered how long that control was going to last. And then she wondered whose control it was she was wondering about. Thea swallowed a groan as his hands slipped into her cloak and circled her waist. This really wasn't the time for this, she knew, but was not quite able to bring herself to mention this.
His eyes never left hers. She finally had to tear hers away, and with great difficulty, in order to watch his mouth as his body bent over hers, bringing that mesmerizing red crescent closer to her own. Her heart was beginning to throb in her ears.
The breath that she'd been holding came out in a surprised rush as something jerked tightly around her hips. She stepped, or rather stumbled, back, reaching for her waist. He released her just as she noticed the knife pressing against her hip. She felt the small smooth rounds as they slid against her questing fingers, and the tightly wrapped silk which she knew without looking was a deep crimson red. She blinked and looked up at him curiously, not quite sure if she should articulate the questions which filled the silence between them. His eyes glinted slightly, but revealed little else.
"Be careful, and if you wouldn't mind, try not to get yourself killed." His tone was as hard as his eyes, which bore into her in a fashion that invited neither questions nor comments.
"I'll try." She managed. The uncertainty that rung in her ears made her spine to twitch.
"Try hard." He bit out dryly.
She pursed her lips at him, turning her expression of obvious uncertainly into one of obvious annoyance.
He winked. Her face registered a moment of surprise before her lips broke into a grin. She returned his unexpected gesture with a cockeyed salute. He felt the tension between them snap as whatever spell they had been under broke with her smile.
"Whatever you say, your Majesty."
Her eyes glinted as she wrapped her cloak back around herself and turned away, replacing the hood which had slid back over her tightly braided hair.
"Don't get smart, your Highness."
"I wouldn't dream of it." She drawled over her shoulder at him. She was already moving away and fading off into the darkness. She looked back once more, lifting a hand in farewell before the trees and the chill night finally swallowed her completely.
He watched the tree line a while longer, his chest growing suddenly heavy with apprehension. He couldn't say why. Perhaps it was just that the moment she left his sight, trouble seemed to find her.
He smirked at the trees. Different trouble at least. Better the evil you know, or so they say. He had a feeling they were both fairly well acquainted with his brand of evil by now. She even seemed to rather enjoy it from time to time.
He sighed and turned back towards the road.
She was still pleasantly distracted when she finally returned to the little clearing marking out the entrance to the 'house'. Her lips tingled slightly from the remembered feel of where his had so recentlybeen, and the pearls of the knife hilt impressed themselves on the palm that wrapped possessively around it, tight enough to make her fingers pulse. Though perhaps that was just the cold. Either way the memory of those two parting gestures was fresh enough, and welcome enough, to warrant the exaggeration.
She was exhausted, worn, and half frozen, but she could hardly keep the satisfied smirk from twisting her lips. She was still raw from the shock of the last few days, almost numb with apprehension, but the thought that he wanted her, would stay with her, sent an electric energy coursing through her veins, heightening her senses...making her feel alive. There was that other thought as well, that he had hinted at, and it too filled her with both fear and excitement.
She wasn't sure just how she felt about it yet, about his being willing to change her and make her like him, but that notion that he would consider it filled her with pleasure. She knew now that he wanted her and more than that, had no intention of casting her off....at least not any time soon.