Fire Ch. 05byEnithermon©
Hi folks, I apologize ahead of time for any rough edges or lame editing errors, I tried. I just needed to get this one out there and out of my head. This one's a little more like ch.3 than ch.4...so yeeeaah, enjoy. I'm fond of it myself.
Questions, comments, vicious lam-basting, all welcome as per usual.
Jairus didn't waited to return. He made it home unscathed, but barely. The first dim shades of morning's grey were already bleeding into the moonless sky, the foreboding menace of first light snaking its way towards him as he moved. It drained him to move as fast as he had, but he needed to know. It could not wait. He needed to know if his fears were true; if Thea was the heir to the Huroth dynasty. He needed to know if he had been sent to kill her.
Naturally he would not. He could not. There were others who might however once, or rather if, he turned them down. He was still trying out figure out how he intended to play this. He sighed as he locked the door behind him and made his way to his room. He paused in front of her door. He could keep her hidden. It wouldn't be too hard. This lair was not easy to find, though he'd grown more careless than normal these last few years. He laid a hand against the cold wood and listened closely. He heard her turn in her sleep and murmur.
He passed on, heavily. And if it was her, did he tell her? Did he tell her that once again she was to be let down by the world in one of the worst possible ways? After her near death at the hands of her own village, and the fear that his own desires had flowered in her heart, did he dare magnify all that with news of a new threat? It was not something he was particularly eager to do.
The door to Jairus's room was locked. Thea frowned and tried it again. No, definitely locked. Could he be home already? He'd only been gone one night, it seemed odd that he should return so soon. She stood there a moment, broom in hand and then started sweeping out the hall with a shrug. He'd never said exactly how long he'd be gone. Perhaps his business, whatever that entailed, was concluded early, or he'd changed his mind.
She'd wondered sometimes about what he did. Not long ago Tim returned with a cart load of very fine looking paintings. She was no expert on the stuff, but they seemed to be of such a quality that even the most ignorant farm girl could easily recognize their expense. She'd even been allowed to pick one.
She'd taken a small one, not feeling right taking one of the big impressive ones. It was of a woman laying in a forest. She looked like she was sleeping, stretched out on a bed of flowers and silks, half dressed, like a nymph. But her pallor and the position of her body was suggestive of something more sinister. She found it odd that she was attracted to it. She thought of the vampire behind the door. Who could account for taste?
She shook her head as she swept the bits of dust and dirt down the stairs. She had tried to picture Jairus as an art dealer, but that seemed very unlikely to her. Like her, he wasn't exactly the world's most talkative person. She couldn't imagine him trying to sell anyone anything. What would he do, stare them down until their will broke and the offered him money just to relieve their discomfort.
She smirked. Now that she could picture.
It wasn't long before her chores were done and she joined the rest for dinner. Tim nodded at her in his silent half hearted way and Barin grinned at her in his.
"Did you know Jairus is back?" she asked as May ladled a large helping of rich looking stew into a bowl for her.
The two men looked up from their food.
"No," said Barin "I didn't. Odd that he was so quick." He turned to Tim. "Did he say anything to you 'bout how long he'd be gone?"
"Said a few days. I figured he meant three or four." Barin nodded.
"That's what I thought too." They both looked at her and she felt May pat her shoulder affectionately and give it a squeeze. She squirmed in her seat and stared back.
"What?" She asked, suspicious of the twinkle in the two men's eyes. She was troubled especially by the glint in Tim's. His eyes weren't in the habit of twinkling. May served herself and sat, making a great show of not looking interested in anything but pouring soup. Tim went back to his bowl and Barin gave her a bigger grin and leaned over his food with a chuckle.
"What's the joke?" she asked again when no one answered. Barin only shrugged and kept eating. She looked around at them and waited for an answer, only to give up when she realized that no amount of questioning stares were going to break them of their complicit silence.
Clearly they thought they knew something she didn't. It was highly unnerving. She ate quickly after that, uncomfortable with their amused silence, and left for a bit of a walk while the last of the sun's light still held.
The chill in the air was invigorating, and she was wide awake and alert by the time she returned. It had been a touch too cold however and she decided to fetch a thicker shawl to warm herself with.
Jairus knew Thea had come back from her walk and listened as she made her way up the little winding stairs. He stood next to her bed, the necklace dangling from his hand. He could still leave and go unnoticed. He had to decide now if he would tell her.
He didn't move. He heard her hand on the door. He had to tell her. As much as it grieved him to be the bearer of more bad news it was her right to know.
So he let her catch him standing over the little box by her bed side, staring down at her necklace.
He looked up, and watched with a mixture of elation and regret as her face turned from surprise to pleasure. She actually seemed happy to see him. She even shut the door behind her, closing them in together, her nervousness barely a whisper. Why did this always have to go so wrong just when it almost seemed to be working. Her smile faded as he stared back at her without answering.
"What...what are you doing?" Her eyes looked to the necklace he held in his hand. He gently replaced it.
"Thea," he asked after a long pause, "may I ask you a question?"
"Yes... what's wrong?"
"Was this necklace your mothers" he asked gesturing to the box.
"Was her name Maria?" She frowned at him, and answered very slowly.
"Yes, she was. Why are you asking me this?"
"Was your father Huroth?"
"I think so, but I don't know."
"Are you twenty four?" There was another longer pause as she searching his face with her eyes.
"Yes. Please, Jairus, is something wrong?" He sighed.
"I believe I know who you're father is."
"Oh." Her expression changed again. " Really? How could you know this? Is he alive?"
"I believe so, that is I believe I know who he is, but he is no longer alive. I'm fairly certain that he was Belok, the last chieftain from the Dareth line." Her eyes went wide.
"You can't be serious?"
He sighed and nodded. She gaped at him a minute before she narrowed her eyes at him questioningly.
"You don't seem very happy about the fact. How...how exactly did you find this out? Could you have been deceived?"
"I was asked to find you. Last night, in fact." She blinked.
"Why would anyone want to find me now? If I am who you think I am...well, hasn't that line already been deposed? Haven't they appointed a council of some kind in his place?" Apparently she'd also done some reading of her own. He nodded.
"I don't think any of the houses are content with the arrangement. They've begun jockeying for power."
She still looked confused. "That doesn't explain what I have to do with it."
"I imagine they think there are still those who might rally behind your house in the chaos which will ensue once the struggle begins in earnest."
She shook her head.
"It's not 'my house'. No one has ever claimed me...except my grandparents, and they're dead. It's a little late now as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to help them."
"That is not their issue I'm afraid." He swallowed reflexively. She cocked her head at him.
"Then what do they want from me?"
"They think you're a risk. They want you..."god could he even say this? He forced the words, "...out of the way."
She recoiled. "What does that mean?" He could see the fear beginning to well up in her, he could hear the strain of it in her voice.
"They've hired someone... to kill you."
"What?" She gasped, backing a few slow steps away. "I don't understand. Why? How...how do you know this?" He winced. Here came the best part. He stepped forward, just a little, slowly, not wanting to startle her. He tried to make his voice low and calming. He doubted it would help.
"They...they asked me."
"You?" He could only nod. His throat closed as he watched her backup towards the door. All colour had left her face.
"You think I will kill you?" it was less a question than statement. He could see the answer in her eyes, in the fear that emanated from her, from the way her hands grasped at her stomach. He'd seen so many people look at him like that. It broke his heart to see that look in Her eyes. He moved slowly towards her, cautiously.
She stiffened. He admired the fact that she didn't flee, didn't pull away, or even shrink from him when he touched her cheek, caressing it, or when he lifted her chin to look into her eyes. He was searching for the words to tell her, to express to her just how terrible such a thought was to him, when she spoke first.
"How did they know I was here, how could they know where to find me?"
He frowned. "They didn't. How could they?"
"Th-then why you, why ask you to do it?"
He sighed and dropped his hand. She'd know now anyway what it was he did, one way or another.
"Because, that is what I do." He paused and watched her whirlwind eyes a moment before continuing, letting her process the information.
"That you were already here, was simply...happenstance." He paused again, breaking her gaze. "The world is a strange creature." He added softly.
"Then, you're a...a..."
"assassin?" He offered softly.
Her mouth trembled. She only stared at him.
"Yes. I am." His chest tightened. He couldn't bear to have her look at him like that anymore. He turned away.
Thea watched him walk away. He stood behind the nearest chair, grasping the back tightly, his head bowed. She didn't think he wanted to kill her. Perhaps he was sorry to do it.
Kill her. Why did everyone want to kill her?
What had she done?
Nothing. She'd done nothing.
The flood of fear, horror, and revulsion that had come over her at his words melted away as abruptly and as sickeningly as it had come. She was suddenly...calm. It was a strange empty sort of calm, like all sensation had been suddenly drained from her, save a numb tingling that crawled over her skin. The feeling made her lightheaded.
She straightened and let her hands fall loosely to her sides. The sickness in her gut settled into an icy ball. The world had clearly made up its mind. It wanted her dead, one way or another. She would have been already if he hadn't found her. This was only...borrowed time.
She felt one last shudder pass through her, of sorrow, not of terror, and then she went cold. She moved slowly, until she was behind him, and touched two fingers ever so lightly to his shoulder. She was barely touching him, but she could see and feel him tense at the contact. He did not face her.
"Please," she asked softly, "just promise me it won't hurt." Her voice was a whisper, but it was steady enough, there was only the slightest of tremors.
She thought she had begun to tremble, then realized it was not her hand but his body that shook. It was feint, barely perceptible, but it made her pull away.
It was then he turned on her, gripping her firmly by the arms, forcing her to face him. She made a little sound of alarm and shook as she looked up into his eyes. They blazed frighteningly, and his face was twisted with dark emotion. He pulled her closer forcing her to look up to see his face. She closed her eyes and whimpered, trying to reign in her terror which surged anew and so much stronger than before, no longer mixed with disbelief. She didn't want to die, not really, not yet.
"Look at me." His voice was raw and harsh. She looked up at him, flinching, and his fingers tightened. His words came out slowly and strained. "You must not fear me. I will never hurt you. Do you understand?"
She didn't. She could only gape.
"Do you understand?' He growled again when she didn't answer. She nodded dumbly, still not quite sure what was happening. His fingers dug deeply into her arms.
"You are hurting me." She whispered tremulously. He blinked, then released her and stepped back and away with a shaking breath. He turned and sat at the foot of the bed, forehead in hand. He watched the floor and she watched him. She moved tentatively forward, like she was circling an unpredictable bull.
"You're...you're not going to kill me?" Did she dare believe it? She wanted to. She fought the hope that surged in her. She couldn't stop him if he tried. She couldn't run from him.
Yet he seemed upset. She couldn't believe that he was cruel enough to toy with her. She'd never known him to be cruel at all. But he was an assassin, a killer. Despite his kindness to her, it wasn't a difficult thing to imagine.
He sighed heavily and looked up at her, his eyes still alight and tormented. How could she fear him when he looked so pitiable. He looked at her with that same intense expression then shook his head, composing himself, giving her a less impassioned, but still pained, look. She believed it.
"No Thea. You have nothing to fear from me. Please believe me." She stood in front of him and he looked up, resting his elbows on his knees.
"I do." She said softly, after a moment. He didn't look like he totally believed her, but he nodded. He looked...sad. Was it because he thought she was afraid of him. She squirmed. "I'm not...you know. I mean just now I was, but before I wasn't, afraid that is, and I do believe you."
"You don't have to convince me Thea...I'm not angry...just" he ground his jaw a little, "was I so terrible to you? So frightening? As I said, if I hurt you..." She cut him off, a little frustrated that he didn't seem to want to believe her, that she couldn't make him understand.
"Stop. No you weren't. I know I behaved strangely, but I'm not afraid..."
"Thea," he sounded exasperated again, "there's no shame in it, I..." Something snapped a little in her head. It could have been the recent shock of his news, or the last week's worth of intense soul twisting anxiety, but all her frustration poured out suddenly and she practically shouted at him.
"Oh, for god's sake. Stop it. I wasn't afraid of you. I'm not afraid of you!" She turned around and plunked down next to him on the bed. She crossed her arms emphatically and gave him what she hoped was a very annoyed and clearly fearless glare.
"I can practically taste your fear Thea." He looked tense, almost angry as he turned to her.
"I'm not afraid of you, I..." she faltered. Why was it so hard to say out loud? It didn't matter, it had to be said. She screwed up her courage and took another breath. "I'm afraid of what you can do to me." She started out strong, holding on to her irritation, but her voice died quickly so that the last word was little more than a whisper. His face softened, but still seemed dark.
"Is that not the same thing? Honestly, Thea?"
"No...no, not What you do....the um...the Affect...of what you do." She blushed and uncrossed her arms. He looked at her quizzically, still frowning slightly. Was she going to have to spell it out for him? "I just can't...well..." Oh, to hell with it, in for a foot, in for a fathom. She was doomed anyway, she might as well squeeze some pleasure out of this sad short life of hers.
Besides, she couldn't possibly embarrass herself anymore than she already had.
She sucked in her breath, steeling herself for another round.
"I want you."
It wasn't what she had planned on saying; it just sort of spilled out. The words surprised her as much as they did him. She didn't look into his face, she couldn't possibly, but she watched his body go so rigid she thought his spine might snap from the tension. His silence filled the room.
"That, um," she continued, her voice beginning to falter again, "I mean, I can't really, well, control myself around you." She shifted uncomfortably. "It's rather disconcerting." She explained after another brief, silent moment. Steady-on, she warned herself when she felt her fear creeping back into her stomach. You thought he might kill you a moment ago, what's a little rejection. That thought didn't much comfort her.
"Well," he said softly after a long pause, "I can't really hold that against you...I seem to be having the same problem." Her brows knit. Was...was that a joke? She peeked at his face and started at his astonished expression and the weird little half smirk he was giving her.
She just sort of blinked at him for a while. He sobered and he cocked his head at her, and lifted a hand. He held it open to her, as if asking her to take it. She bit the corner of her lip and reached out, laying her fingers on his palm, watching as his long fingers closed around hers. She let him pull her closer.
Quietly, slowly, he folded her to him, his arms engulfing her, his chin resting lightly on the top of her head. The feeling of his arms around her caused a rush of warmth and sensation and she felt the dam of her restraint break like it had in the library when he'd giving her back her grandmothers quilt.
She was crying. Silently. Her shoulders shaking. He just held her there, not sure what to say to comfort her. He wanted to comfort her, but he was still stunned by her surprising admission. He was just too damn happy to be very empathetic to her sorrow. It was more than a little guilt inducing, but he couldn't help himself. So he just held her, and hoped it would be enough. After a long time she sighed.
"How is it every one seems to want me dead?" she muttered into his now damp shirt.
He let out a soft chuckle into her hair. "You don't seem too popular do you." He joked, still half buried in her hair.
She let out a longer broken sigh and pulled away with a groaning growl, rubbing her eyes with her palms. He released her and lay back on the bed, his hands laced over his middle. She sat with her head in her hands for a while and he was content to stare at the ceiling and...well, be content.
"You're safe here Thea." He offered softly after a little while.
"I know." She said, her back still to him. "It still infuriates me though. I feel trapped here." His stomach tightened.
"What do you mean by trapped?" He tried to sound casual, but he couldn't keep the tension out of his voice. She sat up and looked at him over her shoulder.
"I feel like if I leave they'll find me. So I have no choice. I had chosen to stay...now I have to."
"You don't have to, there are places you could go...I'd make sure they couldn't follow you." He looked back at the ceiling. She watched his jaw twitch, though his face was a cool smooth surface.
She repressed the smile that pulled at her mouth. She tried to picture him as she remembered him that first night. How strange and uncanny he'd seemed, the hard narrow lines of his hawk-like face, the dark shadowed eyes, the red lips, still red, she thought.
He'd been a dark stranger, a mysterious savior, necessary, but terrifying.
Now here he was, lying on her bed for all the world like he belonged there, looking...mildly put out. His shirt was stained with her tears, his hair tousled slightly. She remembered the last time he'd looked like that, tousled and human. His eyes were still dark, but she was learning to read them. His face was no less angular or harsh, but she was learning, slowly, to read that too. With her fingers. With her mouth.