Shades of Truth
I’d never get used to seeing Mark in normal clothes. It didn’t seem right knowing what was underneath was being denied to the world. He kept glancing at me like he knew what I was thinking. He couldn’t read minds but he was quite talented at interpreting facial expressions. Though half of his current thoughts involved breaking Joey’s neck none of it showed in his manner. I tuned out his thoughts and my memory of his body so I could concentrate on the others. Sam was as lively as ever. You’d never guess that he’d been tortured just last year. Mejir sat in a high chair next to him and was his spitting image. His green eyes were full of curiosity and intelligence. He was very well-spoken. Jack and Jesse had informed me it was quite common for containers to be born with the ability to speak. I found the four-year-old absolutely adorable and kept feeding him snacks. Joey seemed a bit uncomfortable with Stan and Areillo’s PDA but he was good not to comment on it. He was a bit surprised to learn that I had so many boyfriends. “How does that work? What’s the story there?” he asked me, leaning on his hand and peering at me.
“Well, I’ve been friends with the Cambaccis almost from the time I could walk. At first I was hesitant about courting either of them because I liked both of them so much. One day three years ago Jack worked up the nerve to initiate a courtship. Around that time I also met Davis. See, Ashley and I used to be mortal enemies. She was always complaining to Davis about me,” I began.
“Oh yeah. The day she beat the shit out of Ashley I knew I had to meet her so I bailed her out of detention. She and Ashley are best friends now, thankfully. Anyway, I saw this punked out beauty and knew I wanted her for good. I went after her hard,” Davis piped up.
“Shortly after they met I wanted to play hooky with Ani. I saw Davis drive off with her. I already knew him from a few parties so I wasn’t too alarmed. Still, Ani wasn’t answering her pager so I followed her, wondering if maybe she was sick. But they went to the forest instead of her house. And then I saw him move across the seat and lay her down,” Jack reminisced. Joey’s eyes widened. Jack licked his lips and continued, “I thought he was forcing her or something. I rushed over like some damn hero to save the day only to find out it was all consensual.”
“Davis and I explained that we desired one another and Jack had no objections,” I spoke again.
“You gave her permission to be with Davis?” Joey looked at Jack.
Jack shook his head. “There’s no permission to give. Ani’s fully capable of making her own decisions and I told her so, even when my brother made a move on her,” Jack grinned.
There were chuckles around the table. “Please share,” Sam urged us, extremely eager.
“Until two years ago Ani couldn’t tell Jack and I apart at first glance. I sneakily took advantage of it and stole a kiss one night. This young lady actually ran from me!” Jesse cracked up.
“No! Really?” Aeryn giggled.
“Oh, she fled. I was worried I’d read her wrong and ruined it,” Jesse sighed.
“She dragged me outside and was pacing like a lion. I calmed her down, assured her I wasn’t pimping her out just because I didn’t mind her being with Jesse, and told her to make her own decisions.” Jack caressed my cheek as he said this.
“Soon after that we settled into a rhythm and we’ve all been together ever since,” Jesse summed it up.
Evin wore a sour expression on his face, not too pleased to have been left out. There wasn’t much we could do about it, though. It wouldn’t be the easiest thing to explain my relationship with a ghost without exposing almost all of us. Humans in general knew about vampires now but very few knew about ghosts (and now there was little point in them knowing) and practically none of them knew about colds. Which was just as well; it was safer for us that way. Still, I didn’t like having to ignore Evin. I’ll make sure to include him in something later on. It must bore him to death having most of the world pass him by.
Joey wore a thoughtful expression on his face as he digested our story. “I don’t think I could do something like that. It’d hurt too much. I love Allie so damn much. I’d die if she were ever with someone else,” he admitted. “Maybe that makes me weak but I just couldn’t handle it. I want to be the most important thing in her life because she’s the most important thing in mine. There was a teacher a few years ago that took advantage of her. That was extremely painful. He was supposed to be her doctor and he betrayed the trust of her family and friends, the whole town. He ran off like a coward when we all found out. And then several months later Allie was kidnapped. No, I don’t think I’d ever trust anyone else to be with her or protect her,” he spoke earnestly and darkly. He reached out to take her hand.
“That’s a hell of a thing… Each of you must do your best, whatever is healthy and natural for you. Your relationships don’t have to look like ours. Every relationship is unique,” Davis pointed out carefully.
Joey sucked in a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to bring down the mood or anything. I guess this is why I don’t have any friends,” he joked.
Sam slapped him on the back. “Joey and I have known Allie nearly her entire life. She’s always getting in trouble.”
“Shut up! I am not,” she protested, head-butting him.
“I think it’s wonderful that you’re so devoted to Allie. It sounds like your support was definitely needed,” Ashley told Joey.
“He’s my oldest best friend,” Aeryn smiled warmly at him. It was easy to see she did love him, even if it wasn’t romantically and even if she didn’t want to spend her life with him.
Mejir was watching Aeryn and Joey intently, with an uncanny level of awareness and understanding. Sam sighed and guzzled down his drink. Mark looked sick to his stomach and excused himself. “I’ll be right back. I promised I’d call my parents today,” I said and sped off, hating the taste of another lie in my mouth. I walked briskly around the corner I’d seen Mark duck around and nearly fell over his feet.
His hand shot out and rebalanced me. “You following me?” he asked with amusement, taking a drag off of his cigarette.
“He’s got you smoking again, huh?” I wondered, leaning on the wall beside him.
“It’s hard. The thing is that I’m just like him when it comes to Aeryn. I want her to myself and it kills me to see her with him. To know that she wants him, even in a limited way, breaks my non-existent heart. It drives me crazy. Even though both of us have had so many other lovers, her relationship with Joseph hurts me. He’s going to hurt her. Intentionally. He’s going to make her suffer for his shortcomings,” he prophesied. “He’s going to strangle her until her life has ebbed away. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“That sounds terrifying,” I said slowly. “I certainly hope that doesn’t happen.” I crossed my arms and stared at his face.
He shrugged. “We’ll see.”
“Mark, can I ask you about Italy? You said you wanted my whole family moved.” I changed topics to something less painful.
“Yep. Events are picking up. You all have skills we can use. And I…” he broke off and stared at the ocean, the opposite direction of me.
“You gonna finish that sentence or leave me hanging?” I inquired, nudging him with my elbow.
He smirked. “You do me good, Ani, I’ll tell ya.”
“You kissed me beneath the ear. Why is it harder for you to say it than to do it?”
“Fuck if I know,” he replied. “I’ll say it one day. Maybe my speech centers are permanently set to ‘asshole’.”
“Maybe,” I smiled. “So what will we do in Italy?”
“Change the world. Hide out from the Soulless. Spend time with me.” He cleared his throat and shuffled his feet.
I freed one hand to hold his. “Okay,” I said simply.
He glanced around a bit as if he wasn’t used to intimacy as he finished his cig. He put it out in the ashtray and faced me, meeting my eye. “What are you doing tonight? I can kick Sam out if you want to come by. Mejir is in with Aeryn and Joey tonight.”
“You want me to spend the night in your room?”
“In or out of it. I want to see you. And wear my own clothes.”
I placed a hand on his face and he kissed my palm. “Ooh, wait for it, Mark. I’d like to come by. Do you have anything in mind besides sex?” I asked pointedly.
He laughed bashfully. “Now that you mention it, I do actually have other things in mind. Meet me around midnight if you please. We can start planning.”
“Cool. I’ll be there.”
“Hey, by the way, don’t feel bad about having to lie. I know it’s anathema to you. You can get through this. Safety first; that’s how you think of it,” he advised me.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Ready for another go?”
I shot him a naughty look and said, “Very.”
He chuckled and kissed my nose, vampire for “cute”. He released my hand and we returned to our friends, who were in much better spirits. Even Evin seemed happier. We finished lunch and went to get ready for a longer boat ride. Jack and Jesse grabbed cases for their glasses and we were off to the pier. Sam carried Mejir on his shoulders and reached up to tickle him from time to time. The boy would wriggle and burst into laughter. When he was too weak to sit up straight Sam would cradle him in his arms and give him a kiss. It was the cutest game I’d ever seen. We boarded the boat and set off on our hours’ long trip. The ship posted up in a good snorkeling spot. Ashley remained behind, not wanting to get her hair wet today. The rest of us went down to check out the marine life. Mejir tried to catch a few fish and Joey made sure he didn’t wander too far away. Much too soon we were called back up to the ship. While he was still wet, Cal threatened to hug Ashley and chased her around the boat. We dried in record time from the heat of the day alone. I sat in Davis’ lap while Evin floated around overhead spying on people’s conversations. Jack and Jesse played a hand game with Mejir while Aeryn took pictures.
When we got back to our hotel, most of us laid around on the beach. Joey, determined to keep fit, went for a run. Jack joined him. Aeryn was visibly relieved. She laid her towel next to me and cuddled me. Before long she was napping on my chest. I held her close, so happy to be touching her. Jesse, laying next to me, turned his head to look at us. “She’s got a hell of a life, huh? From any angle. Joey may not know the truth but he knows she’s been through it. Her life will always be difficult,” he murmured, stroking her face. “It really is an honor to know her.”
“You have no idea,” I agreed. I hadn’t told anyone else who she’d been in her first life or that she was supposed to save all of creation one day. She was being groomed by so many for some great purposes. Were we the only ones in her life without an agenda? “There’s something we’ll all need to talk about when we get home. Mark wants to relocate our families eventually. When the war picks up he wants us protected.”
Jesse sighed. “Life was never this exciting before. This is big.”
“Tell me about it. It scares me to think that anything like The Crash will happen again. Or something even worse.”
Jesse kissed my forehead. “Ani, I believe in you. I know you can handle anything that comes your way. We’ll all be here beside you. The queen needs you. Even more than she wants me. You’re what she’s fighting for. She loves you.”
“And I love her. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” I gushed.
“You know something, Ani? As much as I’m enthralled by her, I find you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” he shared with me.
“Oh, yes. If it wasn’t for you, Jack and I wouldn’t be able to be truly intimate with anyone else in a healthy way. You brought us out of our shells. You were the first person besides one another that we could open up to. I can’t thank you enough. You gave us our freedom to interact. I admire you so much. You never treated us like we were weird or creepy. And while I may not be in love with you I do love the hell out of you. You’re my favorite person,” he confessed.
“I am?” I smiled broadly, pleased to no end.
“Yes.” He kissed my hand.
“You two are sweet,” Aeryn mumbled as she woke up.
“Did you have a good nap, sweetheart?” Jesse asked her.
“Mm, I did. I don’t get much sleep at night sneaking out to see Mark and Sam,” she explained.
“That must be fun. Getting it at least three times a night. No wonder you’re exhausted,” I sympathized.
“Not as much as being with Riel,” she quipped.
“I don’t want to move. Your boobs are so nice and comfy but Joey will be back soon,” Aeryn whined.
“Sneak out to see me some time,” I suggested.
“Ooh, I know. Boys’ and girls’ activities. We’ll distract Joey, set up Ashley with something nice, and leave you two with a whole day to enjoy one another,” Jesse brainstormed.
“What a wonderful idea. Thank you, Jesse,” Aeryn sat up and stretched.
“Sure. And you know you can come see me, too. Whenever you’re free,” he added.
“Yeah. I’ll take the boys somewhere. Prob’ly to Mark’s room,” I offered.
“I appreciate it.”
Joey and Jack returned from their run and we all went inside to change for dinner. We dressed up fancy and went out to a restaurant on the beach. Like, there was no floor; it was sand. Literally on the beach. Suffice it to say that we were all wearing flip flops. Mejir was done up in a cute little tux. The food was fantastic and again we consumed ungodly amounts. This was the perfect climate to rev the metabolism in. During the meal a sexy man dressed as a tribesman took pictures with us. Joey scowled a bit when he took a photo with Aeryn. He did seem rather enamored of her. “Let’s not start, Joey,” Aeryn said to him, pinching his cheek. “Take me dancing,” she pleaded, leaning on his chest and puckering her lips. I could almost hear him get sprung.
He gulped and answered, “Okay,” as his pupils grew.
I hid my snicker in a cough and darted for the stairs. The rest of our group quickly followed. We found a club and I was shocked when they let us in with Mejir. But when I checked the eyes of the employees I saw that their pupils were enlarged as well. Aeryn had bewitched them all. I shivered as she took to the dance floor and started to move. It was magical to bear witness to it. The crowd parted and everyone seemed to be in a trance. This was a woman one did not fuck with. Several people passed out watching her dance. She crooked a finger at Joey and he obediently stepped forward to dance with her. He was quite good but Aeryn was definitely the star of the show. It was the closest I’d ever come to having a religious experience. This wasn’t Allison Dutch, a young woman. It wasn’t even Queen Aeryn, mother of logmin. This was Lilith: the dark goddess. I could see the energy of everyone present feeding into her like she was a succubus. But it went much deeper than that. Everyone who laid eyes on her wasn’t merely food; she stirred something in our souls. Almost like…a dragon. She set fire to the truth. There were no lies. There were no shades. There was only her.