The Artist's Dragon Ch. 05bybrightlyiburn©
Chapter Five: Iced
If Drake had known there would be so many people at the skating rink, he would have refused to go. He'd thought it would be just the Wolfe family and their friends, but the rink was open to everyone, even today. I must be out of my mind, he thought, settling down on a bench to get his skates on. I hope I remember how to ice skate…it's been way too long.
Drake looked up from tying his skates at the sound of laughter; sweet, melodious, and familiar. Alanna was already on the ice, racing around like an enthusiastic kid. Well, except for the fact that she didn't look at all like a kid. Her hair waved behind her like a banner and swirled around her face when she turned. She wore a nearly sheer, long-sleeved shirt of pale blue over at white camisole, a short white skirt, and a pair of pale blue legwarmers over her skates. God, she's adorable, Drake thought, feeling his heart thump as her eyes met his and she smiled.
"Come on, Drake!" Alanna called, waving to him. "Don't be a stick in the mud!"
Me? he wondered, glancing to the side, where Sydney and Elijah huddled together on another bench. Yell at those two, not me. His attempts to feel grumpy were failing miserably; Drake was thrilled that she was paying attention to him. He rose, uncomfortably aware of how silly he had to look, wobbling towards the ice in his skates. Now I understand why Gabriel is sitting over at the tables and refuses to budge, he thought, scowling.
As soon as he was on the ice, Drake's wobbling got worse. He knew if he could simply get going, he'd be fine, but he didn't like the thought of falling while he was getting the hang of it. Not with so many people in the rink.
"Want any help?"
Drake struggled to turn, to face Alanna. "I'm fine."
"Sure you are," Alanna said, sliding an arm around him. "Please, don't be all macho and stuff, like my brothers. A girl can only take so much of that."
"What, you mean to tell me a man like Alastair wouldn't allow his little sister to help him skate?" Drake asked, in mock surprise. "Now that I just don't believe."
Alanna laughed. "Alastair might, actually. He acts tough, but he's just a big teddy bear. Now, Quinn or my father…god forbid they look anything other than cool and indifferent."
Drake looked down at her. Her friendliness was wonderful and the warmth in her eyes made him ache. He knew he shouldn't, but he leaned against her, putting an arm around her as she helped him across the ice. We can't possibly be anything more than friends, he thought, and we really shouldn't even be that much. Drake knew he was going to regret being so close to her.
"What a waste! What's a cute girl like that doing with a faggot hanging all over her?"
Drake felt Alanna go rigid. He turned with her-he really had no choice in the matter-to look at a group of guys gathered on the side of the rink. They looked young, probably high school age, and they were all laughing and nudging each other. Morons, he thought, scowling. Why don't people ever grow…whoa! Drake almost fell as Alanna skated forward suddenly, coming to an easy halt before the boys. They all straightened, suddenly alert, their attention focused on hers.
"Is there a problem, boys?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at them.
"Not a problem, really," one of them replied, grinning at her. He had shorter brown hair, gelled as was typical for most guys between the ages of fifteen and thirty (or at least that was how it always seemed to Drake). "Just that you're so fine, girl, seems like a shame for you to be hanging out with a fag."
Alanna's eyebrows rose higher and she turned to regard Drake. "Fag? Now, that's really odd, boys, I don't see how you came to that conclusion."
And if he calls me that one more time, Drake thought, keeping his gaze focused on Alanna to help ease his growing temper, I'm going to show him just how hard a "fag" can hit. And darn, he'd been doing such a good job of controlling his temper lately; he shouldn't allow some stupid kid to make him explode. Drake didn't like the thought of looking like a loose cannon in front of Alanna. Even if he was one.
"Look at his hair," the boy said, his tone derisive. "What kind of man wears his hair like a girl's?"
A mischievous smile curled Alanna's lips. Uh oh, Drake thought, as she leaned closer to him. One hand caught his braid, pulling it over his shoulder. The way her fingers stroked over the long plait made him shiver; if he was a cat, he would have been purring. Alanna half turned to look at the boys.
"A man who knows women," Alanna said, her voice a soft, husky purr. "Who knows that women love to have something as soft and as sexy as long hair to bury their fingers in while they're screaming in ecstasy."
The smiles dropped from the boys' faces so quickly, it should have been comical. Should have been, but Drake was too busy fighting to keep himself under control. The urge to pull her close was overwhelming. The only thing that kept him from backing away is how it would have looked. Oh, this is just wonderful, he thought, groaning inwardly. As if everything else isn't bad enough, now I get to feel like a jerk because I really, really don't want her to think I'm gay. Even if it would have made his situation so much easier to deal with.
"Come on, Drake," Alanna said, letting her hand drop from his hair. "Let's skate."
She caught his hand and began tugging him across the ice, making him feel like a much loved, much favored teddy bear. Drake continued to struggle to find his balance, wishing desperately that he could look as cool and graceful on the ice as Alastair did. I haven't felt this awkward since I was twelve, he thought, still leaning against Alanna. He hoped he wasn't making quite as much of a jerk of himself as he thought he was.
"Stupid kids," Alanna muttered, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, some people never grow up."
"It's no big deal," Drake said quietly.
"Yes it is!" Alanna insisted. "No one has a right to make fun of other people simply because they look different!"
She stopped abruptly and whirled to face him. Drake had to draw himself up short so he wouldn't fall, and even then he lost his balance. Struggling to stay up right, he didn't realize at first that Alanna had slid up against him and put her arms around him. Startled, he looked down at her.
"Gosh, I'm so sorry!" Alanna said, trying to help him stay standing. "I didn't even think…"
Is she flirting with me or something? Drake wondered. Out loud he said, "Don't worry about it. Uh…look…I'm gonna…sit…"
He pulled away from her, still wobbling. Drake thought he saw a hint of hurt in her eyes at his sudden withdrawal, but he refused to let her see that he'd noticed. I'm so confused, he thought, as he skated shakily away. It's been so long, I've forgotten how to act around people. And girls especially. Drake wasn't sure what to do when a girl like Alanna hung on him like that.
Maybe I'm imagining things, he thought, as he settled down on one of the benches. Maybe I'm seeing her flirting with me because it's what I want to see. Groaning, he dropped his head into his hands. Drake sighed softly. He glanced up and saw Alanna skating across the ice. She's so beautiful, he thought, smiling to himself. Well, at least I can watch her from a safe distance.
Stupid, Alanna thought, tucking her knees up to her chest. I am so stupid. She'd tried to forget the way he'd pushed her away, but she couldn't. Skating couldn't clear her head. She'd tried talking to Sydney and Elijah, but the twins remained stubbornly reticent. Finally Alanna had taken off her skates and settled on a bench to sulk. Drake had eventually gone back out on the ice…to join her brother, not to join her.
Was I too forward? she wondered, chewing fretfully at her lower lip. I wasn't trying to be. If there was one way in which Drake reminded her of her brothers, it was that she felt inexplicably comfortable around him. Alanna had thought nothing of putting her arms around him to hold him up, or to come to his defense in the way she had. It had seemed so natural, as if she'd been doing it all her life.
"Lonnie, is something wrong?"
Alanna nearly jumped out of her skin. She glanced up as Bea took a seat next to her. Although they usually stuck pretty close to one another during these sorts of things, today the red-head had made herself absent. And all for nothing, Alanna thought, sighing. All I want is to talk to him a bit, and I blew it completely. Bea seemed to sense how she was feeling, because she put her arm around her shoulders and gave her a small hug.
"You're not used to guys, Lonnie," Bea said soothingly. "Aside from your brothers. You can't expect to get it right the first time."
"But it's not like I'm uncomfortable around him," Alanna told her. "I'm not, not in the least."
Bea's eyebrows rose. "Not at all?"
"No," Alanna said, shaking her head. "I…I wasn't scared at all, Bea…"
The red-head gave her another small hug, then left her alone. I've got so much to think about, anyway, Alanna thought. I wasn't scared this time, but what would happen if we got to really know each other? It wasn't the physical part that bothered her, not really. I couldn't bear it if he turned out to be…like that, she thought, her shoulders slumping. But I really don't think he will. The feeling was complete inexplicable, but Alanna couldn't help but trust Drake.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts, she didn't realize someone had sat down next to her until a hand rested on her knee. Startled, Alanna looked up. The guy, the one who had taunted Drake about his hair, sat next to her.
"Move your hand," Alanna said severely, her eyes narrowing on him.
"Come on, I just want to get to know you better," the guy wheedled, grinning broadly. His hand slid up to her thigh.
"I said, move your-"
Her words died on her tongue as the guy was jerked off the bench and thrown roughly to the floor. Drake towered over him, gazing down at him with eyes that were filled with such a cold fury it made Alanna shiver. He still wore one of his skates, and the blade was poised just over the guy's fingers. The guy stared up at Drake, his eyes wide, shaking too badly to move.
"When a woman tells you not to touch her," Drake said quietly, dangerously. "You listen. If you don't listen, you don't deserve to keep your fingers."
"Drake! Don't!" Alanna cried, horrified.
He looked up at her. A crowd was gathering around them now, but Drake was looking only at her. I would never have thought he could do something like this, Alanna thought, meeting his gaze stare for stare. He's so angry… And he was angry because this obnoxious snot has touched her. I should not be thrilled that he's ready to cut this guy's fingers off for me, she thought, biting her lip. That should not be exciting.
Drake sighed and lifted his foot, allowing the guy to get up and dash away. Without so much as a word, he removed his other skate, grabbed his boots from where he'd left them, and walked away. Alanna took a deep breath and turned…and came face to face with her father and her brothers. Her mother, with Sada, Xandri, and the cousins, were a few feet away, watching nervously.
"What happened?" her father asked, his voice calm and quiet.
"He was protecting me," Alanna answered, lifting her chin and glaring stubbornly at her father. "He did nothing wrong."
Gabriel stared at her for a long moment, then laughed. "You truly are a Wolfe," he said, reaching out and ruffling her hair. Beside her father, her brothers relaxed, and Alanna quickly stifled a sigh of relief. She tolerated the indignation of having her hair ruffled to keep her family from thinking twice about Drake's display of anger.
Drake was distracted as he unstrapped his helmet from the back of his bike. I can't believe I did that, he thought, reaching up and rubbing his forehead. I haven't lost hold of temper in so long. When he'd seen that punk touching Alanna like that, he'd completely lost it. And if she knew the truth, Drake thought, she'd think I was a disgusting hypocrite. He settled on his bike and lifted his helmet to pull it on.
"Drake! Wait a minute!"
Startled, he almost dropped his helmet. Alanna was coming towards him. She held her skates over her shoulder and her tights and legwarmers were gone, replaced by a simple pair of sandals. Drake forced his gaze away from her long, bare legs. There was something about the way she moved that made him want to stare at her all day long. He tucked his helmet under his arm and waited patiently while she approached him.
"Um…look…about what happened," Alanna began hesitantly.
"I'm sorry," Drake said, looking away.
"For what?" Alanna asked.
She sounded so stunned that he turned his gaze back to her. "For…for making an ass of myself," Drake explained. "I went too far."
"Too far," Alanna said, leaning forward. "Is some guy I don't know putting his hand up my skirt. What you did was nothing more than he deserved."
"I still made an ass out of myself," Drake muttered.
"Well, we'll call it even, then," Alanna said. When he lifted his eyebrows at her quizzically, she shrugged. "I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable earlier," she said. "I didn't mean to. I was trying to be friendly and I guess I came off kind of…slutty."
Never, Drake thought, unable to stop a smile. Her kindness tore at him, but he couldn't ignore it. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and pull her close, to savor that kindness while he could.
"Not at all," Drake said. "Maybe a little forward, but…I think when a beautiful woman is friendly, a guy tends to hope she's being forward, so…"
A smile lit her dark blue eyes. He shouldn't have said it, but he couldn't help himself. Drake could never think of her as being slutty, and she shouldn't think she was, either. Alanna leaned forward and rested a hand on his arm. He looked up at her and he was startled by the expression in her eyes. Something he couldn't define, couldn't quite understand, but it felt so familiar.
"You know, I love dragon stories," Alanna said quietly. "They're all so different. But my favorite ones are about dragons that are strong and wise, calm and gentle…except when someone hurts those they care for. Then they really become creatures of fire. That passionate anger makes them what they are…and they're truly beautiful creatures."
Drake wanted so much to thank her for those words, but he didn't know what to say. Gazing up at her, he realized that he didn't have to. She understands, he thought, struggling with the need to pull her close. She hardly knows me, but she looks at me and she sees…something different from what everyone else sees. For a moment Drake had the crazy idea that maybe she could understand, could possibly forgive him, but he quickly stomped on it.
"Drake…would you model for me?" Alanna asked suddenly.
His eyes widened. "M-me? I…I don't think…"
"Please?" Alanna's stared at him and he imagined she didn't realize the pleading, sorrowful look on her face.
"I…well…I…all right," Drake said. "I'll do it…"
"Great!" Alanna exclaimed. "I'll come by to Tifo and Callie's place after you get out of work tomorrow, okay?"
"O-okay…" Drake stammered, feeling a little stunned.
Alanna let out a little yelp of joy and threw her arms around him. He savored the feeling of her holding him tight, even though he knew he should not. She lifted her head and gave him an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. Drake tensed as he felt her mouth brush the corner of his. Alanna released him, flashed him a last joyful grin, then turned and raced across the parking lot towards her family, who were coming out of the skating rink. Oh boy, Drake thought, sighing and pulling on his helmet. I'm in way over my head.
"Did you see that? Do you think all their friends are like that?"
Elijah glanced up at his sister, biting back a derisive retort. She could be so silly sometimes. Just because one of them is a loose cannon, doesn't mean they all are, he thought. Although father always said that Gabriel was pretty crazy. It just didn't make sense. Why had their parents left them to Gabriel and his wife? Elijah wanted to go back home, to his familiar house and school and family.
"Come on, Ly-Ly," Sydney wheedled, using her old nickname for him. "Tell me what you think!"
"Honestly?" Elijah asked, lifting his gaze to look at her.
"Honestly," Sydney replied, nodding.
Elijah sighed and leaned forward. "I miss home. I miss Ethan and Chase and everyone else. But…but I don't see what is so bad about Gabriel. Father made such a huge deal about it, but him and his family have been nothing but nice to us."
"I…I was thinking the same thing," Sydney admitted quietly.
Elijah bit his lip. Both he and Sydney had thrown fits when they'd found out they had to leave their home, even though she was usually the sweet tempered one. They had made a pact before coming that they would not, no matter what, like the Gabriel and his family. Ethan and them will be coming soon, Elijah thought, so there's no need to get comfortable. But he was finding it harder to resist the warmth and welcome here.
"They are family, you know," Sydney said. "We…we don't have to be so cold. I mean…couldn't we just…?"
"And what happens when Ethan comes to get us?" Elijah asked, frowning. "No, Sydney. We can't."
She sighed. Grumbling to herself, Sydney rose and headed for the door. They both had rooms to themselves, after all. Once she was gone, Elijah laid back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. When Ethan comes to get us, that will be it, he thought. So if…if we began to feel like they're family, too, it would be so hard to leave. He wouldn't want to leave if he gave in to the kindness of Gabriel and his family. And so Elijah had decided that he wouldn't, no matter what.