Lou stood in front of the door, more uncomfortable than she’d ever felt in her life.
“It’ll be fine,” she muttered to herself.
But then, she was good at knowing when people were lying, herself included.
Courage won over cowardice, and her small knuckles rapped on the door. After a moment the door opened.
The woman’s face lit up at seeing her guest. Her eyes were a little teary as she pulled Lou into her arms.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here,” Lou said awkwardly to her mother.
“It’s been years, darling,” her mother said, then held Lou out at arm’s length to look her over. After a half second, she frowned. “Lou, you’re still not wearing makeup.”
“I don’t need it,” Lou said, shrugging. “Can I come in?”
“Oh, of course, silly me,” her mother said lightly, half rushing back inside. “Charles! Charles, dear, guess who’s here!”
“Who?” a voice responded, sounding hazy, his voice deep and vaguely annoyed.
“It’s Louise!” her mother cheerfully said, as Lou timidly stepped inside. “She’s home!”
“Hmph,” her father grumbled. “Does she have a man?”
“She doesn’t have a ring, I checked,” her mother said, and Lou suppressed a heavy sigh. “Unless you’re doing things the old fashioned way?”
“I’m not engaged,” Lou said, keeping the sulleness out of her tone. She was trying to act cheerful, but it was hard.
“That’s all right, dear, I’m sure it’ll happen soon,” her mother said, ushering Lou fully into the sitting room.
“Anyway, I was hoping to tell you some news,” Lou said, taking a seat as she forced a smile.
“What?” her father asked.
“I, uh, I have a career now,” Lou said.
“Oh, no, honey, you don’t have to do that,” her mother said. “I’m sure, soon, the right man will come al-”
“I’m a police officer,” Lou said, cutting her mother off.
“What?” her mother asked, her voice as blank and shocked as her father’s had been.
“A junior detective,” Lou said, swallowing. “I took the tests a couple of weeks ago, and I passed ‘em. I got a call yesterday from the BPD - er, the Boston Police Department - saying that I’m hired.”
“The… the police?” her mother said, sitting back with a stunned expression.
“That’s a man’s job,” her father said.
“Yeah, I know you’d like Slick and I to switch careers, but it wouldn’t suit either of us,” Lou said, straining to keep her tone level.
“Louise, I love you,” her mother said, tears starting to form. “You know that I want the best for you. But this isn’t right. There isn’t a woman alive meant for violence. The police deal with criminals, Louise. Criminals! With guns!”
“Yes, mother, I know that,” Lou said.
“What is wrong with you?” her father asked.
“Everything,” Lou said, crossing her arms as heat started to form in her eyes. “Everything’s wrong with me, since I was a kid. I’ve figured out what I am, what I’m good at, and this is it.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” her mother said, leaning forward, her eyes shining. “You’ve never given being a woman a chance, Louise! You’ve resisted your whole life! You don’t know what people say…”
“Actually, I do know,” Lou said. “Believe it or not, I’ve got functioning ears.”
“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” her father snapped.
“Sorry,” Lou said, out of old habit, but kept her eyes on her mother. “Look, I didn’t come here to argue with you.”
“Then why did you come here?” her father asked, annoyed.
“Because you’re my parents,” Lou said. “This is… this is a big deal to me, all right? What you wanted for me didn’t fit me, and being a detective does. I just wanted you to know about it. To understand, I guess.”
“I don’t understand,” her mother said, wiping at her eyes. “Oh, Louise… you can’t raise a family like this.”
“Maybe I don’t want to,” Lou said.
Maybe she’d never get Aera to reverse her spell. No monthly cycles, no children of her own, her life actually belonging to herself… wasn’t that a choice she could make?
“That’s not even natural,” her father said.
“You’d deny us grandchildren?” her mother said, paling further.
“I haven’t even thought about that yet,” Lou said, her voice raising despite herself.
“You have to!” her mother said, almost yelling. “You have to think about these things! You can’t just give up on being a woman, becoming a police officer, getting caught up in violence, and not think of the consequences!”
“Maybe I want my own god damned life,” Lou said.
“Louise!” her mother said reproachfully. “Don’t use such language in our house!”
Lou suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. She also resisted pointing out that she’d picked up such “language” from being mostly raised by Dorothy.
“Look,” Lou said. “I’m not here to fight you over my life decisions. I just thought, maybe you could be a part of my life.”
“We are a part of your life,” her mother said. “How could you say something like that? You and your brother are the ones who abandoned us! Before you were even of age, Louise!”
Lou rubbed her eyes.
“I’m sorry, mother,” she said, pulling herself slowly to her feet.
Her mother hesitated at the tone in her voice.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” she said.
“No, what you shouldn’t have done is forget who you are,” her mother said.
“‘Forget,’” Lou repeated with a wry chuckle, before turning towards the door, aching like she’d gained ten years. “I made a mistake. Maybe I’ll make it again someday. Who knows.”
“Louise…” her mother said pleadingly.
Lou looked back. Her father was glaring angrily at her, but still hadn’t taken his lazy ass off the ratty couch. Her mother’s face was covered in streaming tears, reaching out a hand as though wanting to stop her from leaving.
“I go by ‘Lou,’ in case you ‘forgot,’” Lou said, as she opened the door. “I’ll love you no matter what, so I’ll probably do this again. Till then.”
With that, she closed the door behind her, ignoring her mother’s protests.
Her chest felt tight and strangely numb. Lou couldn’t seem to move towards her truck, so she just went walking instead.
It was a new neighborhood. Slick had given the two a big chunk of money, as a farewell gesture, shortly after hitting it big. They’d moved, and just lived off the money. Complete charity cases, now. Her father was too miserable to work, ever since he’d gotten hurt.
Which meant that nothing around here was familiar.
After a while, her legs led her to a nice, old tree. She sat down on the snow under its shade and leaned against the bark.
It was then that she began to feel.
Her tears fell as silently as the snow.
“Hi, Alice!” I said, beaming, as she opened the door.
“Aera, hi, come on in,” she said, stepping back with a smile.
“O’Brien invited me back!” I said as I bounced into her apartment. “In two days… oh, Alice, I’m so nervous… Hi, Lou and Slick!”
Alice laughed and pulled me over to the couch. Lou seemed a bit distracted, and Slick looked tired.
“Did you make a new dress?” Alice asked.
“I don’t know what to make,” I half wailed. “Alice… why can I never seem to figure these things out?”
“You have it more together than Lou does,” Alice said, chuckling at Lou in a friendly way. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a dress at all, let alone a fashionable one.”
Lou smiled tolerantly.
“Oh, speaking of Lou,” I said, smiling back at her. “How’s the job going?”
“It was the brother!” Slick said instantly, which made Lou roll her eyes and Alice start giggling.
“... what?” I asked, confused.
“My first case was kind of stupid,” Lou said.
“It was brilliant,” Alice said, still giggling.
“It took me the whole day…”
“But the brother did take it,” Slick said, grinning.
“Would you two stop it?” Lou said.
“Sorry,” Slick said, and Alice just laughed a little louder.
“This old lady forgot she’d asked her little brother to take her car to the mechanic,” Lou said.
“She’d reported it stolen?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Lou said. “She swore her neighbors were in on it, and had a bunch of suspects lined up. Stupidly, I asked them all questions, before going to the mechanic to find more details on the car, since the lady couldn’t remember.”
“And there it was!” Slick said, with a dramatic gesture.
“Yep,” Lou said with a sigh.
“Aera, Aera,” Alice said. “Lou asked the mechanic if he’d stolen it!”
“I was joking!” Lou said. “Obviously! Which is why I mentioned it to you two! Which I obviously never should have done!”
“You’re going to have so many wonderful stories to tell, Lou,” I said, chuckling.
Lou smiled a little more warmly at that.
“I’m looking forward to some serious cases,” she said.
“Of course,” I said. “But these are good ones for learning. They’re wasting the department’s time, otherwise, but for you, it’s practice.”
“Guess that’s true,” Lou said wryly.
“Have you told your parents the story?” I asked, and her expression twitched in a weird way. “Or… did I forget something? Last I heard, you were going to go visit with them, and tell them about your job, right?”
“Yeah,” Lou said.
“Did that go well?” I asked.
“About as well as expected,” Lou said, shrugging. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Well, that’s… good, then?” I said hesitantly. “Um. Well, I suppose you won’t mind if I take Alice for a bit for some shopping?”
“For your date with O’Brien?” Lou asked.
“It’s not a date, exactly,” I said.
“What is it, then?” she asked.
“I have no idea, to be honest,” I confessed with a sigh. “He’s a strange man, but I like him.”
“That’s great,” she said, her tone a little off.
I wished I knew what to say. Obviously asking about her parents had bothered her, and changing the subject hadn’t helped.
“Right, well, I guess we should be off,” I said, awkwardly looking over at Alice.
She gave Lou a gentle smile before standing up.
Before stepping out the door, I looked back, hesitating.
Then I smiled and shook my head. Lou was made of stronger stuff than I was. She was fine.
Alice and I had a lovely time shopping together.
Two days later, I had another completely new dress that had undergone no less than thirty color changes that day alone.
Not that I really believed that the hue of my dress would really influence the conversation much, but…
Alas, what was a girl to do?
This time, he was going to be home around eight, he’d said. As before, I arrived a little early, without expecting to see him for a while. His work was a priority even over an established partner - this was a trait I could either put up with, or not. Fortunately for me, I had plenty to do.
I sat down on the stairs leading up to his door and fiddled with the improved bullet enchantment I’d been working on. I’d noticed a flaw in the previous design when I’d tripped in the kitchen one day.
Hopefully no one else had noticed that particular problem.
To my happy surprise, O’Brien showed up almost on time - just a few minutes after eight.
I’d been almost comfortable until I’d seen him. My hopes for the night flooded into my mind at the sight of his face and I couldn’t breathe. Part of me was convinced that my new best plan involved shrieking in terror and bolting.
Breathe, you idiot, I thought to myself.
Another part of me reminded me that I technically had the option of erasing his memory if I screwed up too badly.
I mentally kicked myself again, and forced a smile at the serious face. His accursed eyes had the remarkable ability to see right through me, and I couldn’t breathe again.
He can’t read your mind, thrice cursed moron, I thought harshly. He can read body language, though, so relax!
His serious expression grew into an amused smirk as he approached the door. He could tell that I was absolutely not relaxed.
“Good evening, Aera,” he said, and my smile grew more strained.
“Hi,” I managed, while suppressing certain nerve signals in my stomach.
It was completely ridiculous that the body would respond to anxiety with nausea, of all things. I was trying to charm a partner, not eat poison! How did that physical response even make any sense?
“It’s good to see you again,” he said as he made his way up the steps.
I stood, holding on the railing in a graceful way, and most certainly not looking like I was about to pass out from not breathing.
“You’re not cold?” he asked, glancing down at my rather limited, dark red dress.
Aha! So he did notice these things!
“Not at all,” I said, smiling. “I know a trick or two to keep warm.”
Another interpretation of my words occurred me to far too late, and I froze solid.
“Useful,” he said, stepping past me to unlock the door. “Come on inside - I imagine it’ll be more comfortable, in any case.”
“Yep,” I said, turning around and walking after him.
These clothes were a terrible idea. They weren’t revealing enough to be damnable, quite, but they were shaped well enough that it was impossible to even wear the accursed thing without thinking about… things.
I’d wanted him to think about those things, not for me to become so flustered I couldn’t think at all.
“I get the feeling you could use a drink,” he said, giving me an amused look as he started towards his kitchen.
“Yes, actually, that… that is an excellent idea,” I said.
He chuckled as he washed out the coffee cups again. He then grabbed the same bottle of whiskey that I’d brought for Christmas. It looked like it hadn’t had lost more than maybe a shot or two since then.
While he poured a few shots worth of whiskey into the cups, I attempted to remember the basics of survival. Like breathing, a sustainable heart rate, and generally not exploding.
“I still haven’t mentally gotten off work just yet, so I may as well start with that,” he said, sitting down and looking completely, annoyingly comfortable. “Have you figured out what you might pull off, with seeing the past?”
“Yes,” I said, my anxiety fleeing from me. This was a very comfortable subject. “I have two suggestions in mind, for if you accept learning magic. If not… honestly, I can’t figure out a passive enchantment that could handle it.”
“Can anyone learn magic?” he asked.
“Er… sort of,” I said, feeling a bit thrown off as I considered the question. “There’s different… let’s call it, types of talent that people can have?”
“That makes sense,” he said. “So anyone can learn it, but some would have a hard time, in different ways?”
“Exactly,” I said, delighted at how quickly he understood. “Some may be faster to see the magic, some faster to understand how to use it. I can get a pretty good insight into how… aligned a person is. That is, their potential.”
“How do you expect me to fare?” he asked, eyes lighting up with more curiosity.
“I haven’t, um, examined you,” I said, swallowing. “But you’re both intelligent and passionate - that handles most of the biggest issues, really. So, at worst you’d be mediocre. I’d be stunned if you proved awful at it.”
“No pressure, then,” he said wryly.
I quickly apologized, and he laughed, waving me off.
“How long do you think the training would take, before I could use the things - ah, the enchantment?” he asked.
“That I can’t tell you,” I said. “If you deeply want to learn magic, and have a prodigy level of talent, you’d be awakened in under a minute.”
He cocked his head, making me hesitate.
“So it really depends on me ‘getting it,’” he said, musing out loud. “It’s not that the process takes time, it’s that it has to click.”
“Slick attempted to learn for perhaps two hours per week, and it took him several months,” I said. “Though he has focus issues. Alice tried for a few weeks before she gave up. The process involves me watching the spirit, and when she finally understood what magic requires, she didn’t have the… well… heart, I suppose. You have to care, powerfully, about what you’re doing.”
“Emotion based,” he said, summarizing.
“Only if you like unexpected, frequently explosive outcomes,” I said wryly. “Emotion fuels the magic, but it’s the mind that shapes it.”
“Which is why you’d mentioned both passion and intelligence as key points,” he said.
“Correct,” I said, smiling.
“Sounds worth trying,” he said. “How long would it take to make the enchantment?”
“I have two in mind,” I said again.
“Right, right,” he said. “What are your ideas?”
“One is to track the history of an area,” I said. “I could make the enchantment cover an area that’s about the size of this apartment, give or take - the enchantment could let you specify, and a smaller area would require less power. It could take your mind back in time for a while. Currently, I’ve managed half an hour, but I could probably get it to a full hour or two back, given some more practice.”
He nodded, his gaze intent and fascinated.
“You’d ‘watch’ everything that happened in that area, able to move around, see from different angles, listen, feel, whatever you preferred,” I said. “Technically, you could see outside of it, too, because the light would… nevermind. In short, it would send a pretend, ghost version of you back in time, and you’d watch the time progress at normal speed. Since it’s actually messing with time, it doesn’t take any real time, in the present - you’d have the hour’s worth of memory in an instant, as far as anyone else is concerned.”
“That could definitely be useful, for some cases,” he said. “The other one?”
“It’s a little harder to describe,” I said. “Um… basically, most things just… do what they’re doing. If I throw a ball, it will definitely go where I’m throwing it, and not, for instance, turn into a random potted petunia.”
He chuckled at that. “I’m following so far.”
“People, on the other hand, are sometimes predictable, and sometimes not,” I said. “Generally, put food in front of a starving person, and he’ll eat it, even if you tried it a thousand times.”
“Sometimes, though, other things might happen,” I said. “Like your gun - shoot at a target, and sometimes you’ll hit, sometimes you’ll miss.”
“Chance is important for this,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “For An Lum in general, really.”
He gave me a confused look.
“Nevermind, I am not explaining An Lum right now,” I said, laughing. “It’s… a headache. Anyway. At any given point in a person’s life, their immediate future is almost absolutely certain. There are some points, though, some very few points, that involve some element of chance, that can dramatically change the course of a person’s life. I think the best translation for this is a crux point.”
“Still following you,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “Say you step out in front of a car - the car might, or might not, hit you and kill you. Obviously, that makes a big difference in your future.”
“I’d say so,” he said, and I chuckled.
“The moment that you chose to step out, or maybe the moment the driver noticed you - wherever that critical point of chance is found, which causes a massive change in your life, that’s the crux point,” I said. “The other enchantment idea is to track a recently dead person, and allow you to witness every major crux point in his or her life.”
He blinked slowly as he processed that.
“How recently?” he asked.
“Um… within a month or so,” I said.
“Not too recent, then,” he said. “How much would I be able to see?”
“Similar to the first idea,” I said. “See, hear, whatever, like a ghost around the moment. You’d have maybe a minute before and after each crux point.”
“Which might let me see the moment they died,” he said.
“Maybe,” I said. “But it would almost certainly show the moment at which they were condemned to death. The final crux point could be hours or even days before the actual death.”
“It might not even involve them,” I said. “If someone were trying to decide to assassinate your person, for instance, and the assassin’s skill was beyond any reasonable chance of failure, then what you’d see is the deciding moment to hire him.”
“That is incredible,” he said.
“So which would you like me to work on first?” I asked.
He exhaled slowly, and took a sip of his whiskey. He barely looked like he was present, and I could practically hear his mind whirring with thoughts.
“There’s no guarantee I’d understand what I was seeing, in those crux points,” he said after a minute.
“Unfortunately, no,” I said. “I could build another enchantment to store your memories of the experience, to keep it perfectly clear, for study. But that’s the best I could do.”
“With the first one,” he said. “If you get a smaller area, could you go further back?”
“Um…” I swallowed. “Probably?”
“How long would that one take?” he asked.
“At least a month,” I said. “Probably two, honestly.”
“That’d be the best option, then,” he said. “Even if it’s only an hour, there’s a lot I can do with that.”
“Then it’s settled,” I said. “I’ll be working on that, for the next while.”
His eyes were bright, but still somewhat distant, as though he were caught up in memories.
“We’ll need to work on awakening you to magic, too,” I said, to which he vaguely nodded. “Which reminds me, I… noticed a flaw with the bullet enchantment, and I need to replace it.”
“What’s wrong with it?” he asked, touching the necklace.
“Er…” I hesitated, and blushed. “Well, you see, it works in part by dissolving anything that comes at it too quickly…”
“Anything,” he repeated.
“... yes,” I said. “Including, ah, my coffee table, when I tripped the other day. Mind, I was running, and I hit it pretty fast, but it occurs to me that I think people can punch that fast…”
His expression was a mixture of amused and horrified as he looked down at his necklace.
“What would it have done to his hand, if I’d been punched?” he asked, sounding morbidly curious.
“Um,” I blushed. “It… may have dissolved the flesh into a mucky paste and then… sort of… exploded it a little?”
He paled slightly.
“And the new one definitely doesn’t do that?” he said.
“I’ve changed it so that it will only react to metal,” I said. “Hopefully you don’t get shot with wooden bullets, but I’m pretty sure they don’t exist.”
“Here’s hoping I don’t get attacked with coins,” he said wryly.
“It does have to be moving pretty quickly,” I said. “I used Lou’s gun to set a speed standard - if it’s going much slower than a bullet, it won’t activate.”
“How the hell did you hit your coffee table that fast?” he asked.
“Er…” I hesitated again. “I didn’t actually trip. It was more of an explosion that I was dodging…”
He laughed, shaking his head.
“You talk about explosions like they’re commonplace,” he said.
“For me, they are,” I said with a shrug. “It’s a common byproduct of things going wrong - my mother’s trained me quite aggressively to always be prepared for them. She’d randomly explode or set on fire all sorts of things, when I was a child, until I learned to react properly, every time. I was burned so often… Once, when I started to get complacent, she made my favorite snuggle toy explode, just as I was getting ready for sleep.”
“That… is excessive,” he said.
“It’s just how my mother handles things,” I said. “She always wanted us to be prepared to handle anything.”
“How old were you?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Seven or eight, maybe? Does it matter?”
“When you have children, do you think you’d do that?” he asked. “Do you think you’d destroy a young child’s favorite toy, burning them when they least expect it?”
“No,” I said. “But I’m not my mother. Besides, if she hadn’t, Lou would be dead from the Cocoanut Grove fire.”
“I’m sure she meant well,” he said. “But that’s too far, even if something good eventually came from it. I’d even go so far as to call that abuse.”
“Abuse?” I said, and laughed. “Hardly! My mother loves me dearly.”
“I’ve seen many cases of people who badly hurt the people they love, for all sorts of reasons,” he said.
“I think you’re projecting your work onto me,” I said, smiling. “My mother is wonderful.”
“Hmm,” he said.
“She is,” I insisted. “I don’t deny I have issues with her, but they’re not with how she treated me. Not directly, anyway.”
“Oh?” he asked.
“My parents are two of the most powerful spellcasters in the world,” I said. “They expected me to follow in their footsteps. My father was gentler about his expectations than my mother was, but they were both… they’re disappointed in me.”
“They told you that?” he asked.
“No, but it’s obvious,” I said. “I was raised explicitly to be something, and I’m not. What else would they be, but disappointed?”
“Their choices don’t define you,” he said. “Whether or not they’re disappointed in the result is up to them. What the result is, is up to you.”
“I’ve no idea what that result is,” I said, looking at my feet.
“Maybe not the whole picture, but there are some important choices you’ve made,” he said, his smile warm.
“What do you mean?” I asked uneasily.
“You’ve decided that it’s important to not be a coward,” he said. “To stand up, and do the right thing, even if it hurts you. Sitting back and taking orders - that’s the person they were raising, isn’t it?”
“They tried not to,” I said, looking away. “They wanted me to make decisions. They just impressed on me how… how significant the decisions of powerful people are. An entire nation could rise or fall, based on my mother’s whim. Plagues could start or stop by accidental byproducts of other choices…”
“You were afraid to choose,” he said.
We were silent for a moment.
“A few years ago, I shot a man,” he said, and I looked up at him. “He was drunk, maybe crazy, and was running at me with a knife. I knew the easiest shot would be his chest, and the best shot to just knock him down would be an arm or a leg. I had to decide, in that moment, whether I should risk my life to save his, gambling on my aim.”
He took a slow sip of his whiskey and looked deeply into the amber liquid.
“I was tired, that day,” he said. “I hadn’t been to the gun range in a while. I was afraid, and the knife wasn’t the reason. I was afraid of guilt, of killing someone who didn’t need to die.”
He was silent for another moment.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I shot him in the chest,” he said. “He died minutes later.”
My breath was slow and steady.
“You do understand, then,” I said softly. “Does… does the guilt plague you?”
“Not anymore,” he said, looking back into my eyes. “Hard choices are part of the job. Learning to make those choices isn’t an easy thing, but eventually, it becomes normal.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I looked away, so he wouldn’t see.
“With what I can do, that is what I must be,” I said. “I have to be able to make those choices.”
“You’re young, Aera,” he said. “It’s hard, but you’ll figure it out, as long as you’re willing to.”
“Hmm,” I chuckled. “I shall. Though…”
“Oh?” he asked.
“You called me by my name,” I said.
“That I did,” he said uncertainly. “Is that all right?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, looking over at him. “It just reminds me that I don’t know your first name.”
He smiled ruefully.
“Easily fixed,” he said with a chuckle. “My name is Liam.”
“And… I can call you that?” I said hesitantly.
“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “At least when I’m not on duty.”
“All right, then,” I said. “Liam.”
He smiled at me as I blushed at speaking his name.
“Speaking of being on duty,” he said. “I thought I’d get you up to date with what’s going on with your case.”
“Ah,” I said, taken aback. “Of course.”
“Pash is out of the city,” he said. “We had some discussions regarding you and the restraining order, but nothing interesting was revealed. He’s agreed to leave you alone, and all the paperwork’s been filed. Everything’s in order.”
“I see,” I said, uncertain. “Which means…”
“Which means that, unless something happens, the case is closed,” he said.
I blinked as comprehension dawned.
“So… there is no case. So you’re not on my case. Which means…” I said, trailing off again.
“Certain restrictions are not longer in place,” he said. “But there’s some things to discuss on that subject.”
“Y… yes,” I said, my heart rate starting to increase again.
“I think the most important thing for you to know is that I’m not really in a position to have a serious relationship,” he said. “Like with my ex, who never accepted it, anyone I was in a relationship with would always be second place to my job. And I’m not looking for marriage or settling down.”
“What if it weren’t for… those things?” I said impulsively. “What if it were just for play?”
“You’re talking about having sex,” he said, and I almost choked.
“You…!” I said, my jaw dropped. “You can’t say things like that!”
He smiled again.
“I can, and I will,” he said. “If we’re going to discuss something, we should discuss it clearly.”
I just gaped at him.
“I… I can’t,” I said. “I mean, to say things like that so… directly? Talking about it in the abstract is one thing, but…”
“You’re afraid,” he said.
“I… fine, yes,” I said, sighing. “It’s terrifying to say things like that.”
“You’ve mentioned not wanting to be a coward,” he said casually. “This would be a good way to work on that.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered under my breath and groaned.
“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you,” I said flatly.
“Yep,” he said.
I turned bright red.
“Would a simple ‘yes’ do?” I said after a moment.
He took a sip of his whiskey.
“For now,” he said.
It was silent again.
“Argh,” I said. “Seriously? Fine! Yes!”
He shifted minutely in his seat as I glared at him. This conversation had turned too quickly for me.
“That’s surprising,” he said, giving me a quizzical look. “It’s generally men who want sex, not women.”
“Just because your culture is stupid, and keeps women from knowing their own pleasure, doesn’t mean that I am ignorant of such things,” I said, my voice heated.
“A woman’s pleasure?” he asked, his eyes lighting up with fascination.
“Yes,” I said, relaxing a little as I turned my mind towards a more general, abstract thought of biology, instead of… personal things. “Women have different organ structures, in that regard, but are equally capable of pleasure and reaching orgasm.”
“Really?” he asked, leaning forward. “How?”
“Through appropriate stimulation of the relevant nerves, just as in a male,” I said. “Though some aspects are quite different. I… well, I guess it’s not equal. For one, a male is usually more easily able to achieve orgasm, but females can have multiple in one session.”
“And you’ve experienced that?” he asked.
I blushed bright red.
“You!” I said. “Argh. I… fine, yes, but…”
“Is that a difference between your people and ours? Is there a physical difference?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Not that I can tell. With women, the mental state is more critical for her pleasure - the more intensely she desires such pleasure, the more physically capable she becomes of receiving it. Here…”
“If she doesn’t know it’s possible, it might not be possible,” he said.
“It’d still be possible,” I said. “Just unlikely to be discovered by accident. And if it were, who’d admit it, in this culture?”
“That’s a good point,” he said, and then leaned back. “If I understand you, that’s what you’re wanting with me. Just sex.”
I could have choked to death on the surge of blood to my face.
“No!” I said, half yelling. “Argh… I…”
He raised a hand in a pacifying gesture.
“Maybe the best thing is to tell me what it is you want,” he said. “That way we’re on the same page.”
I leaned back and contemplated simply merging into the couch. I could disappear. I had the power.
Slow breaths steadied my heart as I considered how to answer him.
“I told you about how I was… meant to be engaged,” I said, looking at his wall. He nodded in my peripheral vision. “What he wanted… maybe, one day, that’s possible. But not right now. Right now, I’m trapped in this point of preparations. Soon, this life is going to end.”
He looked at me quizzically.
“Living freely, making simple decisions, enjoying time with friends,” I said, shrugging. “Simple things. It’ll be gone. One way or another, I’ll be on the world stage, and who knows what’ll happen then. All I know, all I have, is this little bit of time. And what was it you said? Six months, to a few years?”
I looked over at him and he nodded again.
“I’m lonely,” I said, looking away again. “I’ve been feeling choked in a way I can’t describe. If I must wait, then I want to fill this time with productivity, and I want to fill it with joy. With… companionship.”
“With no plans of commitment for afterwards,” he said.
“Ideally, with every expectation of it ending at that time,” I said, looking away. “That would be… that’d be the best case, for me. I’d be willing to compromise. If… I mean, just sex is an option.”
I carefully breathed, keeping my head steady as those words came out.
“I don’t know what you want, either,” I said. “I’m willing to… to figure things out.”
“I haven’t decided what I want yet,” he said, sounding a little wistful. “I’ve mostly figured out what I can’t do, and what I shouldn’t do. I’m still uncomfortable with the fact that I’m thirty four, you’re twenty one, we met in the context of having authority over you, and I still am in an interesting position over you, considering what I’ve learned.”
I rolled my eyes.
“And why is it that my power over you doesn’t mean anything?” I asked.
“Because I’m a man,” he said. “It’s the way it is.”
“Why does that matter?” I asked, honestly confused.
“Generally, men have power over women,” he said cautiously. “Usually, women have to be worried about men potentially forcing the issue.”
“You mean rape?” I said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he said. “Not that you’d have to worry about that with me in particular, but it’s an undertone to these sorts of issues. I can’t be unaware of it, not with what I’ve seen.”
I rolled my eyes again.
“Rape is a non concern, at all. You realize I could rape you, right?” I said dryly.
“What?” he asked. “But…”
“I could grow a penis, and force you to grow a vagina,” I continued dryly as his eyes widened. “That’d be the easiest. I could implant suggestions into your mind. Paralyze you, but force you to be functional, and responsive. All sorts of things. The power balance goes only one way, here, on every level.”
“Huh,” he said, shifting in his seat again, looking confounded.
He took a long drink of whiskey.
“Not that I would,” I added hastily.
“I understand,” he said, then shook his head to clear it.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a minute. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine… more than fine, actually,” he said, smiling at me. “I appreciate different perspectives, and that… that one smacked me upside the head harder than my ma’s wooden spoon.”
His smile grew warmer.
We were silent for a minute.
“You’re wanting to ask me something,” he said.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I… can’t find the words,” I said, looking away.
“I can guess,” he said.
“I doubt that,” I muttered.
“You’re wanting to ask if I’ll fix your loneliness,” he said.
“What?” I said, startled. “No! No, that’s a terrible question!”
“It is?” he said, surprised.
“Yes, it is!” I said. “It is not anyone’s job to fix my loneliness, and it’s not something you could answer - at best, you could say you’d try. No, that wasn’t my question at all!”
“Then what is?” he asked.
“I wanted to know if you want me to stop pursuing you,” I said impulsively, then blushed again.
“That’s… not what I expected,” he said.
“I desire you,” I said, the alcohol making me bizarrely brave. “But I’ll stop trying to pursue you, if you want.”
The room was silent for a moment.
“I don’t want you to stop,” he said.
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Bio: I'm a teacher, a mother, a wife, and a bit of a crazy person who's constantly trying to figure out how to be a good friend to those dear to me. I love writing, and I love talking with people who read my work - it's always fascinating to see things like predictions, reactions, and so forth. I'm having a lot of fun writing my story, and reading the works of others. Feel free to message me! :)