Impaling the Sky

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Chapter 8: The Sea that Swallows Us

I waited to die in a cage so small I had to curl up like an animal, covered in blood and my own excrement. My prison was a very large truck, and I remember laughing bitterly to myself and wondering why they had to put me in a tiny cage in such an enormous emptiness. I don’t know how long I was there. It could have been a few hours; it could have been days.

When my mind was not preoccupied with thirst and hunger, it seemed to dwell on past events that felt as real to me as the metal pressing against my back. I relived moments with my parents, the priest that sent me away, my sister, Lerato, old friends, and, as always, the days with Simon. I also wondered often if Guy and I would see each other in hell; if our sins had been equal enough to leave us in the same level of damnation. Or would it be better if my sins could be equal to Simon’s? But he wouldn’t go to hell, no, I somehow could not believe that someone with intentions so pure could be reborn anywhere but the heavens. Then I laughed at my delusion; I knew very well that Simon would undoubtedly be reborn in hell for several lifetimes because of the things he’d done. But in his eyes I could always see an intense compassion that I know can only lead to enlightenment, to freedom from the pain of the desire to exist. Then I cried, tears and snot pouring down my face despite my lack of fluid. Perhaps, me too? True freedom? I tried to sit up, but metal pressed back, keeping my body curled inward and my face staring into my groin.

Then the pain ripping through my back was a pair of wings, skeletal, sparse white feathers covered in blood and flesh. I was being pulled through the cage as all of me, my flesh, my bones, all were tearing themselves to pieces to create these glittering strings of amusingly angelic gore.

“Avery,” something was whispering, wiping off my face. I burned all over, but I was finally sprawled out to full length. My body had completely transformed into the wings, connected to me only by shimmering, gossamer strings like thin, sparse spider webs. And the I they connected to was a huge, beating, bloody heart resting in smooth white hands cupped together like a porcelain bowl. Then a pale mouth came closer to me, gently blowing away these strings, and it felt like my arms and legs were being pulled off one at a time. I started beating faster as the lips smiled at me and their tears pitter-pattered onto my surface from the darkness. And then the lips parted slowly and swallowed me whole.

My new eyes opened as I came crashing back into a body. Warm water poured over my face and hair, and callused hands wiped away all the filth as black eyes scanned me in fear. With all my strength I lifted my arm and touched his freckles, and he smiled, grabbing my hand with his.

“Avery. You’re going to be all right,” he said softly. There was blue-green light around us, and I was sure that we were under water. But somehow I could breathe. It hurt immensely, but I was breathing, alive, and my brutal hand softly, yet desperately touched his cheeks, his pretty red hair, the lines on his face where he frowned, his freckled nose, his thick eyebrows, and finally his black eyes.

“Simon…” I sighed in relief.

“You’re going to be all right,” he kept repeating, voice still in a panic. “Avery, stay awake, please.”

“But I’m tired,” I sighed and smiled at him. “Don’t worry, just a little...”

“No! No, no!” he yelled, but I could do nothing to stop the blackness from enveloping me.

The next time I woke I couldn’t see; my eyes wouldn’t open. I could hear voices and a loud, roaring mechanical sound. I again tried opening my eyes, and only the right one gave in just the slightest crack. I was looking up under Simon’s tightly clenched jaw. He hadn’t shaved in some time and was looking forward, talking sternly to someone not far from him. Then he seemed to have noticed my stare from the corner of his eye and quickly looked at me with a softened smile. “Avery?” His gravelly voice echoed in my mind as I started slipping away again.

“I’m so tired,” I muttered inadvertently.

“Go back to sleep,” he whispered and kissed my face, whispering something with sound, “Ai.”

And then I was staring at a black wall. For a moment I thought it was my own eyelids, and I’d tricked myself into believing that they’d opened. But then I sluggishly moved my hand, pressing against a cold, solid surface. I turned my head in the other direction and could vaguely make out the image of Simon sleeping in a cushioned chair not far from my bed. I just stared at him, longing to speak and yet unsure if a voice would come out of my throat.

“Simon…” I half groaned, surprised by the familiar sound of my real voice. He moved but didn’t wake immediately.

I propped myself up a little, looking around the strange, rectangular room. The walls were all painted black, and aside from my cot and the chair Simon slept in there was only a pile of boxes and a small stand with a jug of water and a cup of tiny yellow flowers. The flowers and water were next to me, and I touched one of the little yellow blooms. Buttercups. I smiled, remembering when my sister and I used to put them under our chins to see if they’d make our skin glow.

“You’re boy crazy, Avery,” she’d laugh and run away from me. I pulled one of the flowers out of the cup, and they all followed, making the whole cup tumble onto the floor. Simon woke violently, immediately reaching for an absent sword next to his chair.

“Avery!” he gasped, coming to the edge of the bed to look at my face. “Are you awake?” He fiddled in his pockets for awhile, and then struck a match to light a small oil lamp next to the bed.

My mind was clear for the first time since I’d been sent to die, and I stared at him only still vaguely in shock. He was cautiously creeping closer to me, as if he were approaching a wild animal.

“Avery?” I watched his feet just barely miss the little yellow flowers on the ground.

“Don’t,” I started, and when I looked at him I realized he’d been reaching toward my face. For a moment time seemed to linger behind itself, and Simon stared at me with a pained expression. “Don’t step on the flowers.” He eased into a smile and bent down, putting the little flowers back into the cup and replacing the water.

“How are you feeling?” The soft sound of his hoarse voice was so oddly familiar, and it made my mind feel heavy and strangely lost again.

“Simon, am I dead now too?” I sighed lethargically.

He laughed, face crinkling in worry. “No, we’re not dead.” He poured half a glass of water and handed it to me. “I survived the battle.”

I took the water without looking at him. The question that I'd feared all those years immediately rushed to escape my lips. Why didn't you come back for me? Instead, I pushed down the panic and merely asked, “What is this place?”

“The back room of an old cabaret. North of Kyou.”

“North of Kyou?” I looked up at the ceiling, and it was indeed made of that regions typical large wooden beams and plaster but all black instead of pale. “So far from where I was.” I looked at my hands and noticed that there was a plastic tube spiked into my arm.

"The soldiers started taking you north, but we tracked them. And you've been here sleeping for quite a while. You were very dehydrated. "

“Dehydrated? I’m supposed to be dead.” I looked at him, slightly annoyed. “You’re supposed to be dead. Where have you been all this time, Simon?”

He shook his head, resting his forehead on my arm. “Oh Avery. I'm so sorry. I looked for you everywhere. I never thought of Lerato, and I don't have any contacts in Laseine. I was so sure you died too, you know. So many people did. And the villagers hadn’t heard anything from you."

“How long has it been?”

“Over three years.”

“How have you been, then? For these past three years?” I put the empty water glass in my lap, watching my finger prints decorate the outside as I spun it slowly. We had been separated longer than we had ever been together.

“Well you know, these past three years… they’ve been...very long.” He shifted a bit.

“They have, haven’t they?”

“Need more water?”

“Sure.” He reached for the cup, and his familiar smell made my heart catch in my chest, bursting instantly with warmth. I caught his arm in desperation, and he stared at me with eyes as broken as the first day I met him. I needed him closer, and I pulled his arm forward until he fell into my sore body, wrapping my arms around him, pressing my cheek into his shoulder.

“Avery…” He squeezed me back, and I thought for a moment that I would cry. But I didn’t and just took the deepest breaths I could, touching his hair and back and shoulders. He moved away a little and looked at my face; I wanted to kiss him, and it seemed like he wanted the same but we remained still, just staring at each other.

“I missed you.” I pushed some hair out of his eyes, and he looked down and away. One of us had to take the leap of vulnerability, and I offered myself to him willingly. “I still love you, you know.” He looked at me again, putting a hand on the back of my head and kissing me softly on the mouth. A great ease washed over me, and I smiled against his mouth. “You did that last time.” I kissed his cheek.

“Did what?” He pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes.

“The first time I said that, you kissed me instead of replying.”

“Did I?” He whispered and kissed me again on the mouth. “I’m sorry. I love you. Is that better?” He smiled against my neck as he pressed his warm, dry lips to it. “God, I can’t believe you’ve been alive this whole time.” He looked at my face. “And you look so different.”

“You look exactly the same. Still so beautiful.”

“I’ve gotten even thinner. You look… like a grown man.” He was touching the hair on my face. “You’re twenty one now right?”

“I suppose, but I’ve lost track of time. How long have I been here by the way?”

“You’ve been in bed a few days. We’ve been here a day or so.”

“How did we get north of Kyou in only a few days?”

“We’re only about a day outside of it. We had a truck and good road conditions.”

“Still, that’s...Where is Guy?” I was very suddenly overcome with panic, my whole body shaking like I would freeze to death. “I was trying to take him home.” I looked at Simon's grim face in confusion, convinced that I was still only speaking to an apparition. He looked exactly the same, wild red hair, young, a pretty face. Perhaps he was a little thinner, tired, just slightly insane. Or maybe he’d always looked like that? “Why am I alive? And he is not?"

“We were able to track and over take the soldiers that took you, but the soldier they made from your friend.... All that is not important right now.” He shook his head and stared at my face, stroking my hair. “You’re alive and safe, and, and…”

“And what?” I asked this stuttering apparition.

“You’re home.”

“Am I?” I turned away from him when he said that. When I closed my eyes all I could see was Guy’s huge, terrified green eye as he begged me to help him.

“I’m sorry, Avery. We don’t know what they did with him. And you can’t undo...”

“He just wanted to go home. I promised him.”

“There’s nothing you could have done. He’s gone.” He pulled my head down to his chest. “I’m sorry.” His heartbeat was amazingly loud, pulsing in my own hot, panicked mind like there was an enormous bird trapped inside my skull. I instantly wanted to push him, to get that sound out of my mind anyway I could. But as I resisted he held me tighter, pressing my ear uncomfortably into his breast bone. “I’m so sorry, Avery. All these years I couldn’t find you. I looked, but I just... I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough to help you.” He was stroking my hair again, like he was soothing a child. And it worked, magically relaxing me so much that I almost fell asleep again. “But, I have always, always been looking. I swear to you, I was searching and searching and never got even a clue until that boy with the red hair, out of nowhere…” He stopped and squeezed me very tightly again.

“Simon…” I clung to him for a moment and then let go. “My legs hurt. My back, it feels like my spine was ripped out of me.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll give you something more for the pain. Then you can sleep. We’ll talk about it when you’re feeling better. I wonder if you’ll even remember this?” He brushed the curls off my face and linked his fingers through their loops.

“I remember everything,” I laughed but could already feel myself slipping into unconsciousness. “I don’t want to sleep. I’ll deal with the pain.”

“You have to heal. I won’t go anywhere,” he half laughed.

“You promise?” I laughed a little too, looking at the cup of little yellow flowers.

“I promise.”

The pain medication that Simon gave me was quite strong, and I seemed to be perpetually asleep for some time. It did virtually erase the pain, however, and I slowly started to recover. He lowered the dose as I healed, and I spent more and more of the day awake. Simon stayed with me often, but he also brought matches for the lamp and books for me to keep myself amused while he was gone. We did not talk much when he was there.

I often just stared out the window at all the broken, boarded up buildings and wondered what kind of place Simon had brought me to. It was most likely an old slum outside of the city; I’d been through them many times but this one seemed to have very few people living in it. Simon and some others were apparently renovating a few of the buildings in the area.

I remember that a few days after I'd woken up, I was standing at the window, watching the light rain pile into puddles, when I heard Simon say my name. I turned my head and saw that he was with a few other people, perhaps the owners of the voices I'd often heard in my delirium. They all seemed to be a bit queer in one way or another. I looked back out the window, my attention on the never ending rain.

“Hello,” I said. “It’s raining again.”

“It’s the rainy season here.”

“Spring. It’s my birthday soon.”

“In a week or so.” Simon put his hand on my shoulder, sort of rubbing his fingers down the back of my arm, and I looked up at his face. He was looking out the window as well. “Come on. We’re going for a swim. As soon as the rain stops.”

“Swim?” I asked blankly.

“It’ll help you get your strength back faster.”

“Alright.” I took Simon’s arm, and we carefully walked out of the room for the first time since I’d been there. The room outside was red and seemed to be a bar with a small stage and empty tables. What did he call this place again?

Simon introduced me to the others, and then when the rain lightened we got in a truck and drove out awhile on muddy, abandoned concrete roads. The others left us, and Simon and I took a short walk through a grassy field to a small lake of water below some cliffs. A light mist seemed to be rising out of the water, and I realized as we approached that the water was quite hot.

“It’s shallow on this end.” Simon helped me walk to the left edge and took off my boots for me. “We can come here every day if you want, maybe one day we’ll take a trip up above. This is the biggest pool, but there are dozens of little ones up there. We can sit and relax in one."

“You don’t have to spend all your time taking care of me. Don’t you have things to do?” I could feel an unexpected and strange bitterness slowly building within me.

“Don’t be stupid,” he replied and suddenly stripped off most of his clothes. For some reason I was quite embarrassed and looked away from him quickly, waiting until he’d gotten into the water before I could look in his direction again. Then I also stripped down to the grey militaristic boxers Simon had gotten for me. He wore the same ones.

I sat on the edge of the pool with only my legs in the water, watching his bright white body as it flashed through the dark waters at the deeper end. He swam back to me, floating on his stomach in the shallows and kicking his feet to make small waves. As his wide dark eyes looked over me, I found his expressions amazingly, almost childishly cute. He hadn't seemed so innocent in my memories, and I wasn’t sure if there had been a change in him or, just as I’d feared, a fairly severe change in myself.

“Come in. I won’t let you drown.” He hid his smiling mouth under the water. The large black almonds stared at me, blinking rapidly as they inspected my body, lingering over the tattoos on my arm and chest. I gently kicked my feet, churning the water slowly, and the eyes went back to my face.

“They’re beautiful tattoos,” he said. "Did they hurt? Sometimes I think about getting tattooed.”

“It doesn’t hurt. Your skin is too pretty for tattoos though.”

“It’s covered in scars and nasty freckles already,” he laughed and splashed me. “Maybe I will get one like yours.” He came up in between my legs, taking my arm in his and looking over it. “Where did you get the ideas for the different parts?” His finger swirled over the moon on the inside of my forearm.

“They’re different parts of my life,” I said, watching his face as he examined me. “The bottom is my childhood, then up farther the rest of my life. It’s not finished. I need to finish the upper part, then I want to do my back.”

“This part…” He was touching the large fish like creature wrapped around the inside of my upper arm. “I’ve been wondering about this. Do you know what that is?”

“No. It’s, its’ supposed to be you.” I moved my arm away so that it was no longer visible.

“That’s a painful place to be tattooed isn’t it, the inside of the arm?” I didn’t say anything, and he moved his hand up to the bare, round top of my shoulder, laying his palm over it. “What are you going to put on your shoulder?”

“Not sure yet. ”

“Should be something important. You have time, the rest of your life.” He started to sink back into the water, taking my hands as I finally slipped in as well. It was surprisingly soothing, my toes curling into soft mud as the hot water splashed to my shoulders. Simon let go of me and dived into the deeper waters, beckoning me to follow.

“I can’t swim,” I lied.

“What?” He swam back to me. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I can only tread water.”

“Swimming is simple, don’t worry. ”

“It’s funny you know, everytime I see you, you have to teach me something new,” I laughed dryly.

“Learning new things is just part of life.” He was swimming around me playfully. “Maybe you can finally teach me to cook.”

“I suppose I could try." I laughed more genuinely, starting to feel at ease. Simon dived under water, and I couldn’t tell where he’d gone until his hands pinched at my calves. “Hey! Stop that!” I laughed more, and he burst from the water.

“Go under all the way,” he demanded, treading closer.

“No, I don’t think so.” I shook my head and went under just to the bottom of my chin.

“Scared? I won’t let you drown.”

“I’m not a fish, and I don’t need my face in the water, thank you.”

“It feels good; just do it. I’m not a fish either.”

I rolled my eyes. “Are you sure about that?”

“Even that thing on your arm, it’s not a fish.”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a whale.”

“A what?” I laughed at the silly sound of the word.

“A whale. It lives underwater, but it breathes air. And they’re huge, like the size of a commuter train.”

For a moment, I thought that Simon had probably never seen a commuter train, so he couldn’t possibly know what he was talking about. Right? I pushed it out of my mind quickly. “Liar,” I laughed. “There is no such thing.”

“It’s true. They’re the guardian spirits of my family; that’s why there’s one on my tunic. But there aren’t any anymore. That’s why my family is broken.”

“What happened to them?” I played along with the story.

“We lost them.” Simon swam behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me back against him rather roughly.

“They’re an awfully big thing to lose.” I blushed a little but did not try to escape.

“You lost me for a moment didn’t you? But I was right next to you, under the water where you couldn’t see me.”

“That’s true.” I laid back on him completely, letting my feet slowly lift from the ground. He hooked his arms under mine, holding me just out of the water, my head lying back on his shoulder. I relaxed completely, and he kissed my ear, his breath slow and deep.

“Are you ready?” I nodded slightly, and he slowly started walking us into deeper water. “Hold your breath.” I did as he asked, and he suddenly stepped over a cliff, plunging both of us into the incredibly deep half of the lake. He held onto me and we sank down into darkness; into absolute stillness. My heart beat frantically in my ears, and even as my lungs began to burn he held me tight, his face pressed into my hair. I thought for a moment he really did mean to drown us both, but I did not struggle. Then, he suddenly released his arms, pushing me away from him almost violently. The air burst from our lungs in massive bubbles, and I swam towards the light as fast as I could.

We both surfaced at the same time and gasped desperately. I stared at him in awe as I panted, “You could have killed me. I told you I can’t swim.”

“I knew you were lying. I’ve seen you swim,” Simon sighed and then smacked me lightly on the back.

“I feel like I’m going to faint.” I swam back to the shallower end, but was too weak to pull myself out of the water. “Is this how you treat a person in recovery?” I laid my head on the warm rocks, staring upward at the approaching grey clouds.

“I’m sorry." He wrapped his arms around me from behind again and kissed my neck, pressing his bare chest against my back. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” I laughed nervously, for some reason startled by the feeling of so much of his warmth. It was somehow different when we were both under water. Out of it I really did feel like we were naked. “It was actually…” I turned around so I was facing him, touching some of his dark, wet hair. “Kind of fun.”

“It was supposed to be.” Now it was his turn to blush, and then he looked away from me.

“Simon…” I tried to get him to look at me, but he wouldn’t. “What's wrong, Simon?" I put a hand behind his head, pressing myself against him as I pulled his face down toward me. He seemed oddly distressed, and then he kissed me very suddenly, but also with the soft, genuine hesitation of over boiling guilt.

I pulled down harder on his neck, and his warm lips slightly pressed open as my tongue started to brush inside. Then, I heard the sound of truck doors slamming nearby. He broke away surprisingly quickly, putting his hand on my chest to push me away. I can still remember the exact feeling, the amount of pressure his hand used to separate us.

“I’m sorry. I’ll explain later,” he whispered and quickly got out of the lake. There were a few people approaching, some of them the same as those who’d driven us out. Simon waved to them, and the one walking in front waved back fairly enthusiastically. I stared at this new one closely, a hard pit churning in my stomach. Though he was even shorter than me, he was quite handsome, well built, white, with a trimmed, light-brown beard, and very short hair. I also thought maybe he was a transitioned man, like Simon. He approached quickly and hugged Simon close to him, and I sank down in the water so low I couldn’t see them anymore.

“Avery,” I heard Simon call a few seconds later. I ignored him and sank lower, letting the water linger closer and closer to the holes of my ears. I stared at the slime covered side of the lake and looked up only when a shadow came over me. “Avery, what are you doing?” Simon asked, head turned to the side in curiosity.

I stared up at him, letting my mouth fill with the water. I looked at the other man and then let the water flow out slowly. Then I just stood up, whole face out of the water. “Sinking.” I was looking at Simon again. They both just stared, and then Simon laughed and held his hand down to me.

“Come on weirdo, I think that’s enough sinking for the day.” He seemed genuinely amused, but I ignored his warm smile and the gesture of his hand. I pushed it away and stubbornly pushed myself out of the lake, using almost all of the energy I had left.

Simon didn’t say anything and tossed me a towel. I caught it without looking at either of them, drying myself quickly and then leaving it on my head. Simon was telling the man about how I’d been doing and asking him about his travels.

“Avery, Avery,” Simon had been saying, and I finally looked at him. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” I croaked.

“Avery, this is Nicolaus.”

“Nice to finally meet you,” the young man said politely and held out his hand.

“Ah,” I said, looking at the floor. Then I thought better of embarrassing Simon completely and said, “Nice to meet you.” I did not shake his hand.

“Hope you’re feeling better soon. Well,” Nicolaus raised his eyebrows and looked at the others. “Should we start back? It looks like rain, doesn’t it?”

“Come on, Avery.” Simon put his arm around my shoulders, and I couldn’t help but lean into him on our way to the truck.

I had a headache, and the roaring and bouncing of the truck made me feel like I was going to vomit. Simon took me back to my room, and without saying anything I got up and locked myself in the bathroom. It was a tiny white room; there was no shower. I leaned on the cracked, porcelain sink, staring into the filthy drain. There were little bits of shaved facial hair stuck all around the bowl, clinging to the sides like they were afraid of falling to the dark pit in the center. It was oddly cute, and I smiled, my stomach suddenly dropping to my knees, and my heart beating against my head. What happened to my wings? Why did I fall back into this human body? I looked up into the half piece of mirror still stuck to the wall to find that the face staring back at me was only vaguely familiar. The eyes were muddy green, rounded by bright pink blood. And the lips, pale and thin, shook the entire scruffy face. The eyebrows were slightly askew, and I wondered if half the face was dripping off the skull. So I pulled up both eyebrows, then pulled down the cheeks, bright red skin peeking out from under the eyes. There was a light knock from behind.

“Avery, are you alright?” Simon’s voice sounded tinny and faraway; like it had been a recording. “Avery? Can I come in?”

“No,” I replied nervously and was shocked to see my own weak voice had come out of the gruff, mean face in the mirror. There was silence for a long time.

“Are you alright?” he asked again very quietly, apparently pressed up against the door.

“Don’t come in.”


“Because I’ve lost my face.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“It’s gone; it fell down the sink.”

“What fell down the sink?” He tried to turn the doorknob.

“My face. Don’t come in here.”


He started pushing against the door, and I panicked and turned on the water, washing all the little clingers down the abyss. I asked them to bring me back my face, but no one replied. I thought maybe they were mad at me for washing them away, and my heart sank, my knees buckling with it until I was on the floor, holding my flopping stomach. “I’m coming in!” Simon yelled at me and left the door. There was silence for some time, and then suddenly he was stabbing at the door again, turning the old metal pieces until it swung open and hit me in the knees.

“Are you alright?” I was just looking at the floor, forehead resting on my knees. I didn’t answer him. “Avery…” He bent down closer to me, hooking a hand under my upper arm. Then he opened me up slowly, one limb at a time, until he raised my face to look at his. “Your face is right here.”

“It’s not mine.” I shook my head and looked away from him.

“Whose is it then?”

“I don’t know. It’s not a very good face.” I laughed at myself, slowly coming out of my strange terror. What the hell was I talking about? Of course this is my face. I’ve lived all the horrors that make up this face.

“There’s nothing wrong with your face. It’s perfectly fine. Come on,” he sighed, resting his forehead on mine. “I’ll help you to bed.”

“No, I’ll do it myself.” I pushed him away.

“You’re tired. I’ll help you.”

I looked at his face long and hard for a moment, all of my worst fears and insecurities rushing into my mind at once. Why didn't he come back for me? Why didn't he find me? Why? Why, do I love him so much more than he loves me? And I was thinking of Naoki's slightly stricken and dejected expression of sadness as I asked, “Simon, who is Nicolaus to you?” He stared back at me for a moment and then looked away.

“I’ll explain everything to you if you get off this disgusting floor and into bed.”

“Fine. Move; I can walk ten paces.” He grudgingly did as I asked and waited impatiently for me to drag my half dead body to the bed. I sat on it, and he sat in the chair next to the table.

“I’m in a sort of relationship with Nicolaus. I haven’t gotten a chance to properly talk to him about you being alive so…” He was still not looking at me.

“What?” I asked, instantly angry and then empty again.

“Well, I don’t want to leave him just like that.” Then he muttered very quietly, “I was thinking maybe, maybe we could all have an open relationship, or something like that.”

“Like all of us together? Like polyamory?”

“Yeah, maybe. Maybe…” He glanced at me very nervously. “You’d really like Nicolaus, Avery.”

“Simon…” I let my head fall into my hands. This is not the Simon I had wanted to find. This had to be a mistake. How can he say this to me when I had left my sweet, indulgent Naoki for him so easily. Had I perhaps forgotten that Simon never loved me the way that I love him? Had he? I’d essentially been in this kind of open relationship with Naoki, so I was not against the idea. But it was somehow so insanely different with Simon.

“Nicolaus won’t mind either. He sees other people too. I really think you’ll like each other.” He continued without looking at me.

“Please stop saying that.”

He got up and sat next to me on the bed, taking my hand in both of his. “He wasn’t supposed to be back so soon. I was going to ask you before but I just…” I looked at him, surprised by the weakness and uncertainty that stared back at me.

“No,” I said flatly, watching the hurt well up in his black eyes.

“Why?” He seemed almost desperate.

“You don’t really love me anymore, do you?” I asked with a light gasp, like I was strangling myself.

“Of course I still love you!” He had suddenly gotten a bit angry and stood. “Why does love have to be something you can only give and receive from one person? Love isn’t something that requires exclusion, jealousy, and ownership. I love you Avery, but I… this is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in, in my entire life. I don’t want to just throw it away without a second glance.”

He turned away from me. Was this really happening? Was he really going to choose that man over me? My Simon? What am I willing to sacrifice to keep him? My pride? Yes. My feelings? I suppose so. I pressed my lips together, thinking, desperately trying to figure out what to say. And then, in exhaustion, I just acquiesced all of my will to him. And I knew that I would never be able to find my face again.

“Okay,” I said quietly. Am I really so much of a coward? I should demand that he love me and only me, the same way that I love him and only him above all others, right? Maybe he was right about love. Still, I doubted I could ever love someone the way that I love Simon. The odds of finding a comparable person were just far too low. Can you have an open relationship like that without equality? But I said nothing more and only pressed my lips together to keep the real words inside.

“Okay? Is that all you have to say?”

“Okay. Yeah, that’s all I have to say right now.” I had to say it quietly or the truth would spill out before I could stop it. I cleared my throat, and it quieted itself a bit.

“Really?” He turned around, seeming quite surprised. “You would do that?”

“I would do anything for you, Simon,” I half whispered and looked at the hands I had laid my lap. They look strong enough these days; I squeezed them closed, and felt their true weakness; they were shaking very noticeably.

“Avery. " He touched my face, and I looked up at him. “It’ll be alright, you’ll see. And if it’s not…”

“You don’t have to choose me,” I said and looked back at my callused hands. “I’ll be fine.”

“I won’t leave you again.” He hugged me, pressing my face against his chest. “I love you.”

“Will you stay with me tonight?” I asked, hugging him back.

“I have to go talk to Nicolaus soon.”

“Please? Just for one last night can I pretend you’re only mine?” I felt like I was going to cry, but my eyes didn’t even water.

“I told you, I’m not something to own,” he laughed, rubbing the back of my neck.

“If I could swallow you and keep you inside of me forever, I probably would do it you know.” I smiled against his chest when he squeezed me.

“I should be mad when you say crazy things like that.” He pushed me away, and then got back on the bed before climbing in beside me. “But I’ve been thinking for awhile now… that I would do the very same thing to you.”

“Will you marry me then?”

“Not a chance,” he laughed and slapped me. “I’ll be no man’s slave.”

“You don’t have to be. I’ll be your slave,” I joked, but I probably meant it. I shifted so that I was laying my head on his chest. I felt like I would do absolutely anything to keep him near me, or to keep him happy. I’d lost my sanity long ago, with my other face, and I wanted nothing more than Simon, Simon, Simon at any cost.

“That’s kind of a pervy thing to say,” he laughed, rubbing a hand up and down the back of my arm.

“I’ll be that kind of slave too, if you want,” I laughed with him. “Anything you want.”

“Hmmmm, I just might take you up on that offer someday you know. You’d make a very cute slave.”

“I’m not so cute anymore.”

“Are you crazy? You’re cuter than ever.” He teased and pinched my cheeks. “And when your hair grows in a little longer, my god will you be cute. I’ll probably die.”

“Maybe I like it shorter?” I teased back and looked at his face.

“Slaves don’t get to decide how their hair is cut.” He pinched my nose, and I felt like I was going to sneeze until he took his hand away, making a fist with his thumb wiggling inside. Then he opened it and pressed his hand back onto my nose.

“What are you doing?” I laughed.

“Giving you back your nose.”

What made everything worse was that Nicolaus was very nice to me, but all I could hope was that he’d fall off one of the roofs they were fixing, or at the very least be killed heroically trying to save a newborn baby. He’s the type that will die that way, in some kind of absurdly heroic way. He was almost obnoxiously polite and well liked. He also seemed to enjoy telling me about how much Simon had talked about me, as if that would make me despise him any less for making Simon love him. Sometimes he would even flirt with me a little, and while I did find him attractive and would have enjoyed it under different circumstances, I doubted his sincerity and mostly just ignored him.

Something, something had to change. I would often cringe into myself, realizing that what needed to change the most was my weak, self loathing character. But I was still mostly like the walking dead. I had no ambition, very little emotion apart from fear and bleak emptiness, and no sex drive, even with Simon.

I kissed him often, but my embrace was probably more like an obsessive child than a lover. I sometimes tried to reestablish the connection we had, even the awkward connection we’d had in the lake, but it would not work. I dragged my feet as I walked, ate very little, and lay in my little room reading books and Simon’s crazy political pamphlets. I often got letters or even fruits from Lerato and Nomakhaya, but I didn’t have the will to throw myself into the public on a bus to mail a return letter. I could have had someone else send the letter, but I did not want Simon to see what I would have written to them. And Simon was taking care of me now. What did they have to worry about? It was exactly what they’d always known me to want out of life. I didn’t write Naoki or Alexsev, and they probably had no idea if I was dead or alive.

The only thing that seemed to make me feel better was when Simon would give me back a piece of my face. He’d given me the entire thing several times and then over again, except my eyes, and it was disturbing me immensely. I didn’t tell him any of these thoughts of course, and the distance between us seemed to widen after every encounter.

“Avery?” Simon called into my room. I was laying in my bed, arm over my eyes as I tried to take a nap in the late afternoon. My head was spinning from having spent the day working on the buildings with Simon, Nicholaus, and their friends. The last thing I wanted was to see anyone.

“Leave me alone.” I groaned back and turned toward the wall.

“Can I come in?” I didn’t answer. “Avery? Avery? Avery?”

“No, I’m changing my clothes. I’m, I’m not dressed,” I lied.

“Can’t I just come in then? I want to see you.”

“No! Go. A. Way!” I threw my pillow at the door, and it surprised me a little that he stopped knocking and seemed to have gone. I was drifting off to sleep when my window slammed opened, and Simon leaned inside.

“Are you going to sleep? It’s nearly time for dinner.” He asked, pulling himself in and knocking over all the things on my table.

“I’m not hungry.” I watched him tumble onto the ground and then get back up. He can be quite ridiculous at times. He sat on my bed, immediately fiddling with a loose string on my pants. I turned around so he would stop playing with the string. He didn’t, so I bent down and ripped it off.

“That…” He started playing with another loose string. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop pulling on the strings; you’ll make a hole.” He looked a little hurt and stopped touching me. I was just getting angrier and angrier. But the anger never got very far before it backfired into my own heart, and I sank into submissive depression.

“You’re cranky today,” he sighed, smiling at me. God, no matter how mean to him I am he just smiles and smiles and laughs at everything I say. What can I do to get a genuine response out of him?!

“I can’t help it. All I can think about lately is you with Nicolaus.”

“Why? You’ve been with other people too, haven’t you? Lerato told me you were seeing someone.”

“That was when I thought you were dead. Not right now.”

“What if you had fallen in love with him?”

“There’s a reason I didn’t.” This did seem to hurt him a little. “All the people I slept with were just a way to replace you.”

“All the people? How many were there?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t count. Ten or so?”

“Really?” he said, blinking quickly.

“I was just trying to replace you. It never actually worked.”

“Nicolaus didn’t replace you, Avery. Not at all.” He was solemn at first and then he smiled, jokingly. “The boy with the red hair, he did look a lot like me. Is he one of the people you slept with?”

“Yes,” I leaned forward and touched some of his hair. “Only because in the shadows it was easy to pretend he was someone else.”

“Weren’t there some pretty big difference though?” he laughed and blushed a little.

“I tried to ignore the differences. His eyes were far too light to look like yours, even in the dark.” I answered seriously, but he laughed again. “The man I stayed with in Kyou was just to pass the time while I looked for you. I could never want anyone the way that I want you.” I wanted to kiss him, and even felt vaguely sexually aroused, remembering how much I used to desire him.

“So you wouldn’t change anything about me?” He rose his eyebrows skeptically.

“Well, maybe a few more freckles. But when it stops raining all the time they’ll come back.”

“You’re so weird, freckles are disgusting.” He pushed me lightly.

“Yours are beautiful, Simon. You’re adorable.” I moved closer to him, hoping he would kiss me.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been called ‘adorable’ once in my entire life.”

I got very close, putting half of my hand on his face and running my thumb over the cluster of freckles on his cheek. He stared back at me for awhile, and then very suddenly kissed me as if he’d lost control, roughly pushing me back onto the bed. He moved on top of me, holding my arms down beside my head and looking down at my face. I smiled uncontrollably, breathing heavily and staring back. I loved him when he was like that, laying on top of me, black eyes searing into every part of me they could find.

“Good god, are you cute,” he gasped, already flushed.

He buried his face in my neck, and I laughed. It was late in the day, and his face was a little rough and tickling me. Mine was probably worse; I generally have thicker, coarser body hair than Simon, and I hadn’t really bothered to shave that morning. He didn’t seem to mind and continued sucking on my neck. A few times I thought I was getting hard, but Nicolaus would come back into my thoughts and it would go away. Damn it, why am I so obnoxiously monogamous? I suppose all that Christian schooling had to leave its mark somewhere in my psyche. Oh my god does he smell good. Simon kissed the curls at the nape of my neck, pressing his whole body on top of me.

“Please, please, kiss me back, Avery,” he breathed into my ear, and I kissed him on his shoulder. “Do it again.” He took one of my hands and put it on his back, catching my lips with his as I readied to kiss him. I opened my mouth for him and he slid a little bit of his tongue inside. It was like his breath had poured fire into my chest, the burning sensation excruciatingly painful and yet so pleasurable my brain practically melted to ruin. He broke away from our kiss and suddenly pulled my shirt over my head. I blinked at him in surprise, and he took his own off, throwing them both.

“Simon,” I gasped as he smashed me beneath him.

“I’m sorry,” he replied but kept kissing me all over. “I love you, Avery. I love you. I love you.”

He sounded so sincere, but there was still a desperate, nagging doubt in the back of my mind. He kissed down my chest, and I laced my fingers into his gorgeous, soft hair, pulling him up towards my face by pressing on the back of his neck. He understood the pull and kissed me on the mouth again quickly before going lower and unbuttoning my pants. I was only a little bit hard from the kissing, but at the first press of his hand I was completely lost.

It took me a few moments to realize what he was doing. “Simon, stop it,” I gasped and tried to push him away. He stopped and touched my face instead, pressing his leg between mine.

“You don’t like it?” He was breathing heavily and looking at my face. I ran my hand up and down his back, thinking.

“I just, I, I can’t breathe.” I was panicking, embarrassed, and slightly confused. Why did he want to have sex so badly right this instant? Couldn’t we just kiss for a while? Lay in bed, bodies pressed together, slowly take off our clothes.

“I’m sorry,” he said, lifting some of his weight off of me, but pressing harder between my legs. I could see more of his beautiful body, and I brought my hand around to the front, pressing on his scarred chest, until we were both sitting up again. “What’s the matter?” I stared back at his face, perturbed by his nervous smiling, the way he started feeling his own arms under my gaze.

“I want to look at you,” I answered truthfully.

“But not touch me?” He seemed a bit annoyed or possibly hurt.

“I want to do both,” I said, feeling over his chest, over his shoulders. I wanted it to feel more… special? I cursed myself for being such an over sensitive little girl about the whole thing. I thought maybe I had outgrown my shyness and sentimentality toward sex, but sitting in the bed with Simon I still felt like a helpless, eighteen year old virgin. Maybe if I could ever find my eyes? Simon suddenly made me look at him, and it frightened me that he had read my mind and knew my weakness. His dark eyes scanned mine meticulously.

“Are you alright?”

I shook my head, and he hugged me, pressing my face into his shoulder so tightly I could barely breathe. He was hurting me, but I didn’t say a word. Nor did I hug him back. I just closed my eyes and pressed them into his bare skin.

“I’m sorry, Simon,” I muttered after a long time had passed.

“It’s alright. Everything is fine; everything will be fine,” he said, rubbing a hand over my curly hair, down my neck, down my back, and then up again. “I’m sorry. I’ll fix it.”

“I just can’t seem to get it out of me.” He squeezed me even tighter. “That hurts…” I complained, and he just laughed.

“I’m trying to squeeze it out of you.”

“I don’t think it works that way. What will I do when it’s gone? There will be a big hole.” He just squeezed me again.

Then, as I was beginning to wonder just how long he planned to suffocate me, he squeezed very painfully again and said, “Swallow me then. I’ll fix the hole; I promise.”

I had been there a few weeks before Simon and this strange little band of people had finally finished one of their buildings. They were going to throw a celebration party, and of course it was going to take place in the little bar I was currently residing in. Simon lived in his own flat, which apparently was not ready for me to move into yet as the building was quite beat up. My suspicious and childish heart assumed this just meant that he really spent most nights with Nicholaus.

The day of the party I just waited in my room, hoping that I would not have to attend a party full of people I didn’t know and frankly did not care to get to know. A band had started playing, fiddlers, a pianist, some flutes, and a few other instruments. There was enough noise to indicate a sizable crowd had shown up by the time Simon came back to my room and entered without knocking.

He was wearing a thin white shirt with very loose sleeves, beautiful white embroidery sprawling across the middle. The fabric was so thin I could see not only his undershirt, but some darker patches of freckles and a few of his scars. The neck was laced up with strings, but he had them disordered and open, the dip of his clavicle showing. His pants were charcoal grey and fairly tight, boots short and black,mostly unlaced, with the tongue hanging out. His hair was also completely disheveled and only half pulled back. I’ve never known anyone who can look so disheveled and clean at the same time as Simon, absolutely gorgeous. I smiled at him.

“You’re not even dressed,” he joked, hands on his hips.

“I don’t really want to go,” I sighed. I had changed into a new pair of pants, put on an undershirt, and then stopped.

“It will be fun. You don’t have to dance. The music is good, there’s all kinds of food and wine and beer.” He had a green shirt in his hands and was coming forward like he was going to put it on for me. I let him, wondering if I really had finally made Simon into my mother. It was a nice shirt made of tightly woven, light fabric, and a very pretty, plant like green. Simon must really like me in this color, I thought, and then I felt sick thinking that it was most likely Nicolaus’s shirt.

“Do you like it?” he asked, picking things off my arms and shoulders. “I bought it for myself but it doesn’t look nearly as good on me as it does on you. You should keep it.”

“It’s yours?” I asked, pulling the sleeves. They were a bit long, and I hid my hands inside of them. I never thought I would be thin enough to wear Simon’s clothes.

“Yeah, I’m too skinny for it. Looks like a green bag hanging off a skeleton. Come on; let’s go get some wine in us. Then you’ll feel more like a party. Do you like wine, Avery?” He is a sharp liar.

“I do. I like wine best.”

“Me too; wine gives such a warm feeling right here.” He motioned over his chest and stomach. That’s where I feel warm whenever I think about him. I worried that he’d read my mind again when he said, “It’s like being in love.”

“It is,” I agreed and found myself letting him pull me out of the room. He locked the door from the outside and put the key in his pocket.

“Don’t want any drunks wandering in there messing with your stuff.”

I really wished he’d given me the key, but I just followed him obediently over to a table of food. He made me eat several things, and they were all quite good. He was about to put a cookie in my hand, but he stopped and put it in his mouth instead. “Do you still dislike sweet things?”

“Most of them. I definitely don’t like cookies.”

“Here, eat some cheese.” He put the cheese in my mouth for me too, since my hands were piled with other foods.

“I need a drink.”

“Good idea,” he exclaimed and hurried us over to the wine casks. I ate the food in my hands while we walked over there. He filled two ceramic mugs with dark red wine. I took a small sip of mine; it was pretty good. Simon drank half his glass and then refilled it again. We sat at one of the tables, drinking and chatting, and it wasn’t long before pink blossoms appeared over Simon’s cheeks.

“You’re so cute, Avery,” he said dreamily and laughed. “Really, so cute.”

“You’re so drunk, Simon,” I teased back in the same tone of voice. I had drunk half of what he had, and despite my lack of fat I probably still outweighed him by at least ten kilos, so I was considerably less drunk. I was a bit hazy though and could feel sadness and lethargy already building up in the front of my brain. Simon probably didn’t know that I am often a sad, lazy drunk. He is the opposite, quite energetic and talkative, and definitely very amorous. I would probably throw up if I tried to have sex when I was drunk, but more likely I’d never get to the actual act; an erection was nearly impossible.

A dancing game had started, and Simon urged me to join. I didn’t know the game, or how to dance at all, so I refused and told him to go alone. He said he would stay with me, but I insisted that he join. His excess energy was starting to annoy me, and I told him so. He grudgingly left me alone at the table, and I quietly drank my wine and ate some breads.

“Wow, so you are real,” someone gasped beside me. “I thought Simon was just finally all the way crazy.”

There was a very young person, I couldn’t tell their sex, standing beside me and blinking with large, amazed brown eyes.

“What do you want?”

“I wanted to see Simon’s long lost love. You’re not as sweet as he said you were. As expected; he’s about as sweet as grass himself.”

“What can I say; the bears stole all my honey.”

“What? What’s a bear?”

“Never mind, it’s a saying from the Middle.”

“So you really are from the Middle!? That’s why you talk funny?”

“Yes.” I rolled my eyes and turned my head away.

“That’s so cool! My name is Mako.” The person sat down at the table and thrust their hand toward me. I ignored them until they said, “So, how do you plan to get Simon to leave Nicholaus?” I looked at them with raised eyebrows. “Well?”

“I don’t particularly have any plans. Simon can and will do as he wishes.”

“Is that so?” I watched Simon drink a shot of liquor at the bar and then go back to dancing around like a fool. “Did he drink like that before you died?” I finally looked at the person. They were cute, with short boyish blonde hair and a soft young face. “Do you want to dance, Avery?”

“No, not at all.”

“I don’t really dance much either.” They sighed and relaxed into their chair, drinking some beer. “So how long have you known Simon?”

“Since I was sixteen.”

“Sixteen. Oh, I’m sixteen right now. How old are you?”

I could tell by their self involved way of moving the conversation that they were well below the age of twenty. “I’m twenty one or so.” I realized when I said that that I was about the same age as Simon was when he first met me. My god, he must have found me annoying.

The dance had ended, and I could see Simon coming towards us. He scowled at Mako immediately.

“Are you being mean to my Avery, you little brat?” he accused, drunkenly pressing my face into his stomach.

“No, weirdo,” I muttered when I finally got free.

“You’re so cute, Avery, you little liar,” he laughed and kissed me several times. “Come dance with me. The next one is fun.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Doesn’t matter. Nobody does.”

“I really don’t want to dance, Simon,” I sighed, and he finally let me go.

“Ok then.” He kissed me fairly deeply before going back out on the floor. I was just watching him go, and he looked at me over his shoulder a few times. Then, just before the music started he ran back, grabbing my head and pulling me into several, long, deep, and embarrassing kisses. “You’re so cute, so cute,” he kept saying and then finally went back to the dancing.

Mako was looking at me with eyebrows raised high. “Well,” they said and laughed. “That was interesting. Nicolaus was right; you make him so different.”

I quickly drank some more wine, watching the dancers. It was a rhythmic dance, and after so many turns with your partner you kissed them. Simon was dancing with a young transitioned girl, and playfully kissed her, lightly, on the mouth. She blushed intensely, and I could feel my heart squeezing in jealousy.

“You are kind of cute when you’re angry. You’re eyes are bright green right now, you know that?” Mako teased and poked me in the shoulder.

“I’m not angry.”

“Oh yes you are.” As the dancers circled, they switched to new partners and Simon was dancing with Nicolaus. “You should see your face. Aren’t you going to say anything? Simon’s never going to be monogamous unless you make him; he’s that type.”

“Simon is free to do as he wishes.”

“What kind of a man are you anyway? You are a man aren’t you?”

“You know what, not right now, no,” I mumbled to myself, but he heard me anyway.

“No? Oh look, they’re getting to the kiss. You’d better do something…”

It was terrible to watch, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. They faced each other and bowed; Simon had been dancing the female part so he sarcastically curtsied. Nicolaus touched Simon’s face, smiling blue eyes filled with kindness and love, and then he kissed him on the lips, pulling Simon’s face down toward him. God, I really want to go back in my room. Simon came over a few seconds later and pulled my chin up to look at him. I turned my head away when he tried to kiss me.

“Avery, dance the next one with me. If you dance the girl’s part it’s easy; you just follow.”

“I don’t want to. I’m having fun right here, okay?”

“Fine.” He seemed slightly angry and glared at Mako. Then he drank a gulp of my wine and went back out with the dancers.

“You’re supposed to fight for him, Avery. Look at Nicolaus out there dancing like nothing’s happened. He has a sweet face, but I know him. Shakes your hand with a smile, and stabs you in the back when you turn around. He was raised to be a woman after all; some things you can’t unlearn.”

“Why are you over here talking to me about this?”

“Because I don’t think Simon belongs with Nicolaus. He’s much more suited to someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” I laughed. I really didn’t think Simon and I seemed compatible at all just from the outside.

“All scarred up and scary and crazy in the head. You know, you’re a criminal aren’t you? So is Simon. You guys have no family, no normal life at all like me and Nicolaus do.”

I looked at Simon; he was eating a few bites of something and absentmindedly sort of scowling at the other dancers. And despite his happy mood he did look a little bit scary. He was a smuggler if I ever saw one, and I could even see a scar peeking out at the lower opening of his ill shaped shirt.

“And he’s old,” Mako added, and I laughed. “Much too old for Nicolaus.”

“He’s not even thirty.”

“He acts old. And he’s so crusty and mean to me all the time. He pretends he is open about relationships but he is not. He hates me because I like Nicholaus.”

“Well, I think it’s more that you’re exactly the type that gets on his nerves really. You talk too much, and you’re extraordinarily bold. Simon only likes playful boldness, not the real kind.”

“He’s overbearing.”

“Its nice being with someone like that you know.” I sighed and looked at Simon again. “Someone that takes care of you no matter how stupid you are.”

“I already have a mother. Who needs another one?”

“I don’t have a real mother. So I guess I do.” Mako was really starting to anger me. “You know, if you want Nicolaus so badly then just go take him.”

“He won’t leave Simon for me. He just thinks of me as a child even though I’m only three years younger than him. The difference between him and Simon is way more than that!” It surprised me to learn that Nicolaus was only nineteen, and for some reason it made me feel more capable in my mission to steal Simon back from him. “So Simon needs to leave him. You need to make him leave him. Please, please.”

“Uh, I can’t do that,” I sighed.

“Just make him jealous. Simon is a very jealous person, trust me.”

“What?” I laughed, and Mako started leaning over the table, getting very close to my face.

“Stay still or it won’t work.” And then Mako kissed me softly on the mouth. I pulled back at first, but then I understood the meaning, and a kiss from such a pretty person was not entirely repulsive. The unexpectedness made me blush, and Mako kissed me again, pulling my head and even trying to push open my mouth a little.

Simon was standing at the table before we’d even broken the second kiss. He was breathing very heavily from dancing, and had ditched Nicolaus in the middle of the floor. Nicolaus only then looked annoyed, and he suddenly reminded me of my old friend Sou. Always smiling, and then one day bursting with his true intentions. I decided Mako was very wrong about that being a female attribute.

“What are you doing?” Simon huffed, looking at me.

“I’m not allowed to kiss other people, but you are?” Simon was too drunk to push down all his emotions, but he tried anyway, only making himself look more distressed. He glared at me for a long time, then took my wine and drank it. When he tried to kiss me, I turned away again. “Not right now.” He violently slammed the cup down on the table, making my heart skip into my throat. Then, he moved my face roughly, making me look at him.

“This game is not amusing, Avery,” he said, grinding his teeth together. “Come dance with me, right now.”

“You’re drunk, go dance with someone else.” I pushed his hand away from my face, and he grabbed my arm. It was slightly frightening, but at the same time a bit exciting, making him so furious. He stared at my face, then shook his head and suddenly threw my arm away as he stormed out of the room.

“God, that was a little bit scary,” Mako laughed when Simon was out of range. “I didn’t expect quite that much from a kiss.”

“Well, probably because you were trying to put your tongue in my mouth you little pervert.”

Mako just shrugged. “I was going for realism.”

“That was very immature,” Nicholaus’s only half angry voice interrupted, and we both looked at him.

“I don’t see how it concerns either of you,” Mako sighed and twirled their fingers into my hair.

“Mako, you really have no idea what you’re messing with. Simon will, actually, kill you for this one.” Nicholaus shook his head and tried to get Mako to stand. “You don’t understand the situation. Come on; get out of here before he comes back with whatever he just left to get.”

“Why? He’s not going to do anything but laugh about it. Like he does about everything else,” I yawned, and looked away from both of them. As soon as I turned my head I saw Simon coming toward us quickly. I could only blink a few times before he was there, pushing Mako out of his way.

“Get up,” he demanded, pulling on my arm.

“No,” I countered and pulled myself back into my seat. Mako and Nicolaus just stared at us in astonishment as we struggled.

“I get it, already. Now get up and dance with me! Now!” Simon yelled and kept wrestling with me. Even at the time it felt a bit ridiculous, but we were both completely lost, as if no one else were in the room, as if dozens of eyes weren’t staring at us.

“I hate dancing, Simon! Just leave me alone!”

“Let …go…!” Simon complained, trying to pull my arms away from the table.

“No!” I always slipped one free as he got the other; I was soberer and probably stronger than him, but he was very, very instant, eventually toppling the nailed down table and pulling me backward onto the floor.

“Simon, let him go already,” I heard Nicolaus saying.

“If you touch me right now, I’ll break your damn fingers,” Simon growled and slapped Nicholaus’s hand away before he immediately went back to pulling on my arms. “Stand up and dance with me! Damn it Avery!” Simon demanded, trying to pull me up and pin me down at the same time.

“No! Get off of me!” He pinned one of my arms behind my back, pressing on it, trying to make me give up. My entire mind and body burned with my stubbornness, and he pressed so hard I was sure that he was going to break my arm or even my back. Would he really do that to me? Break my arm for kissing someone? I suddenly relaxed and he let go, standing above me and breathing heavily, hair tossed all over the place like the drunken lunatic I remembered. He pushed me down flat on the floor and put a boot on my back. Then he bent down, holding out his hand in front of my face.

“Are you going to dance with me, then?” I nodded, and he removed his foot. He helped me stand and a few people cheered, and a few booed either because the amusement was over or I’d given up too easily. As soon as I was up, Simon covered my eyes with one hand, and then pulled me up against him with the other. “Pop, pop,” he laughed and took his hand away.

“What are you doing, you idiot?” I growled, still annoyed and horribly embarrassed.

“Giving you back your eyes, dummy,” he half whispered, resting his forehead on mine. “But if you use them to look at anyone else, I swear I’ll pluck them out again.”

“Oh will you?” I laughed, pretending like I was going to look away from him.

“Don’t mess with witches, Avery,” he growled, and turned my face back to him. Then he flicked me painfully in the neck. “You have no idea what we’re capable of.”

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