Hollis gripped her steaming mug of tea, hair damp and fragrant from this evening’s shower. She’d spent the afternoon alone, nestled in the freshly dug dirt next to her family. Small stones with names and dates dotted her sister’s and father’s graves, and she’d set out to make markers for her mother and grandmother, even uprooting wild fistfuls of creeping purple phlox flowers to plant around their final resting spots. She’d done her share of therapeutic crying, slowly coming to terms with her new reality, as resistant as she desired to be.
Covered in dirt from head to toe (a normal occurrence for Hollis) she’d stomped back inside as evening drew near to wash herself clean. Oberon had sat in the kitchen, eyes following her every move as he shoveled copious amounts of food into his mouth. She’d done her best to ignore him, making herself dinner after her shower as he ducked into the bathroom for his turn. She’d eaten and poured herself some tea, nestling into bed with her door cracked, waiting for him to reappear. He’d been in the bathroom for an eternity.
She thought on his words to her, to keep her safe from others. It made her stomach flutter, awakening a side to her that had not yet been given the chance to flourish. The problem, though, was his two-sided nature, and she feared he wouldn’t be able to keep her safe from himself. He was a puzzling creature, and she wondered at the marvel he was. These scientists had created an indestructible being, but at the same time he still felt ancient, still spoke as though he’d lived in another era altogether. She wracked her brain, trying to remember what the newscaster had said about him. Something about his DNA and remains being used to recreate human life…
The door to the bathroom opened, steam billowing out and into the kitchen before it dissipated, the golden sunset catching the water droplets and throwing diamonds on the dark wood walls. Oberon ran a hand through his damp hair, wearing not a stitch of clothing. Hollis reddened, heat coursing through her as she averted her gaze, eyes wide at the differences in anatomy her companion possessed.
She heard his footsteps draw near, and she pretended to be looking out the window.
“You are strange,” his deep, smooth voice said from the entrance to her room. She glanced his way, eyes fixated at a spot above his head. A tremble of fear snaked up her spine at their proximity and his lack of clothing.
“Can you…put on some clothes, please?” she said, face falling a deeper shade as her eyes dipped to his angelic face. He stood, stoic and austere as he studied her.
“Even virgins know what a man looks like,” he said, more to himself than her.
“What are you talking about?” she said, voice a little more breathy than she intended it to be. He frowned.
“You’ve really never seen a naked man before?”
She shook her head quickly, eyes dipping even lower in her morbid curiosity. When they found his face again, she caught his smug smirk.
“Better become used to it, tiny human. We will be traveling together for some months,” he said, leaning against her doorframe.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be…polite,” she sputtered, eyes still feasting on his perfect form. Heat pooled in her gut, imagining such acts as he wished to do upon her. At least if he committed them, he was attractive…and didn’t smell awful…
“Polite?” he asked, heavy brow furrowing.
“Covering up in the presence of a…of a lady,” she stammered, hating herself for indulging in his perfection. His cavalier attitude only made it worse. He chuckled.
“You are so innocent. Why do you try to hide that aspect of yourself?”
She bristled, gripping her mug tighter.
“I am not.”
“You are, very much so.”
She grit her teeth together, wishing he would leave her alone to wallow.
“I will dress my lower extremity, if it makes you more comfortable,” he said, voice softening. Her gaze found his, and she seemed to withdraw into herself under his scrutiny. After a moment, she gave a tiny nod. He left for a moment, tugging on his shorts, before returning to her room and pushing his way completely inside.
“What are you doing?” she asked, leaning back on her bed.
“It is time to sleep. I need more than I’ve been able to get these past few nights,” he said. She set her mug on her desk, intending to fight him for her space.
“Not in here,” she said. Closing the door, he slid the bolt into place, eyes sweeping to her face.
“I do not yet trust you to not attempt something stupid.”
If Hollis were a wolf, her hackles would have been raised.
“I don’t trust you won’t hurt me,” she spat back. He sighed, annoyance clear in his demeanor.
“I’ve been honest about my nature with you. If you were in imminent danger, I would not be here,” he said, golden eyes simmering as the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, bathing them in bluish dusk.
“I want my bed to myself,” she said, snapping her jaw shut, relenting in her own way and on her own terms. Oberon’s cold heart thumped in silent fear; sleeping now brought with it anxiety that he would not awake, or if he did, it would be in a sterile lab once again. For some reason, the little human calmed him, much like Hollis’ bear was calming to her. He decided deceit would suffice for now to obtain his desires.
“There are others, who stalk the night. They may arrive at any moment. It would be safer, to be close,” he said, staring her down, wondering if she would see through his lies. Her blue eyes widened a fraction.
“Let me…can I…I want to read, for a while, and finish my tea…” she said, cheeks flushing despite the cool breeze through her window. Oberon nodded, settling himself into the stiff chair, watching her. She reached for her yellow, bulbous mug and a large leather-bound book. Oberon’s eyes caught the golden script on the front, and his mind bridged the gap in his knowledge. He let out an involuntary hiss, and Hollis jumped, glancing out the window.
“Is someone…outside?” she whispered. He narrowed his eyes at the book, shaking his head.
“May I…may I see that?”
“What? No,” Hollis said, clutching the book to her chest like a dog protecting its bone.
Oberon sighed in exasperation.
“I won’t hurt it. I just need to…see, something,” he said. He watched as her brows knit together, and confusion toward his shift in demeanor swept through the room.
“Please,” he grit out, heart rate gathering speed. Slow, she held out the book to him, and to assuage her fears, he grasped it with a tender hand, weighing it, staring at it, feeling the wars it had waged, the lives it had changed.
It spoke to him more fervently than anything, having passed through so many billions of humans. He hadn’t noticed the steady tremble in his hand until he attempted to flip through the pages. He heard nothing else as he skimmed the fine, minuscule print. It didn’t take him long to find it, his eyes brushing over the verses as delicate as an artist’s stroke. He frowned at the words, not surprised by the portrayal from another’s perspective.
“Who wrote this book?” he said, not caring to glance up from the ashen pages.
“Umm…I don’t know…a lot of old dead guys,” Hollis said, confused.
“Who wrote Genesis?” he clarified, peeking up at her. She chewed her lip in thought, curious and not afraid, for once.
“I think…Moses? I don’t really know…Noah is mentioned a lot, but he would have been too busy building that damn boat for the flood—”
Oberon snapped the book shut, handing it back to Hollis.
“Thank you,” he said, voice curt. She seemed stunned, recoiling at his sudden shifts. She nodded, setting the book and her tea aside, no longer desiring their company in the face of this turn of events.
“Get to sleep,” he commanded, voice gravelly.
“I will be in bed with you soon. I just need to check on the horses,” he lied, hoping it was smoother this time. Clamping her mouth shut, she nodded, sinking into bed. Oberon stood, leaving the stuffy room, lungs aching for a breath of air untainted by old walls. He walked to the paddock, sweat pooling between his shoulder blades, but the cool evening breeze quieted his discontent. Twilight was rather serene and peaceful to him, almost dark but still light. The horses drew near as he leaned over the fence, both snorting and nudging his bare arms in search of anything sweet. He swept his palm over their sturdy necks.
Winston was serene, aged and wise. The other was more wild, strong-willed and fearless. A good pair, in his mind.
“Tyr,” he said, waiting for the draft horse’s response. He threw his sturdy head in approval.
“Much better than Shadow, I suppose,” Oberon said, peering into his great black eyes. The horse hated his old master, had been all too willing to help Oberon when the time came. He stroked the beast’s neck, feeling his contentment. Both horses were trusting, were willing to submit to his leadership, but Winston’s skittish mind kept returning to Hollis.
“I will take care of her,” Oberon promised, smiling as his ears tilted forward in acknowledgement. He’d always enjoyed the presence of animals over humans. They didn’t speak unless they absolutely had to; humans spoke when they need not. With a sigh and a parting pat, he turned toward the cottage, squaring his shoulders, feeling the weight of his reality pressing down upon him.
He needed to be free, he needed to be his own master—he needed the chance to truly exist.
He paused outside of Hollis’ room, candlelight flickering in the breeze. She was sprawled on the floor, ankles crossed in the air as she pored over a massive, wrinkled map. She wore thick wool socks and thin black shorts, the clothing doing little to hide the plumpness of her buttocks. For the second time this night, Oberon felt himself smile, something normally a rare occurrence. But this tiny woman had such an innocent air to her, and coupled with her stark stubbornness and sharp wit, he was obsessed.
In truth, Oberon was young—old enough in his past to begin a family if he had wished, but young enough to explore what the world had to offer before settling into that role. He’d been a vibrant, troublesome youth, raised by his dear mother until her passing when he was just growing out of boyhood. His father was distant, as was expected, and he knew of many other siblings, but knew they had all perished, condemned to his very same fate.
Oberon wondered how he had somehow escaped the wrath of that judgement, how he had survived in the icy wasteland, imprisoned in his body until he was forced back into life. It didn’t matter to him now; he would not squander his second chance, and as ancient as he may have felt, he also felt things as forcefully as if they were his first time experiencing them.
He cleared his throat, making Hollis jump and roll around to glare at him. He nodded to the map.
“Where does that lead?”
She sat up, twisting her fingers together in her lap, wide eyes shifting nervously. He sensed she desired to ask him something.
“Speak,” he demanded.
“It’s…well, it’s a map of the North American Provinces…I was just looking at where my father was from…” she said, biting her bottom lip at the end. He entered the room, lowering himself next to her, feeling the small amount of heat she exuded. He studied her face as she blushed, leaning away from him. He nodded again to the map.
Shaky, her dainty, stubby fingernail pointed to a location marked by a bright yellow star.
“The Great Alaska Province,” she said, peeking back up at him from under her lashes.
He thought a moment, feeling the charged air—Hollis was wrought with nerves.
“You wish to ask me something,” he surmised from the energy he gathered.
She looked away, back to the map, fingers brushing the vast expanse of land.
“If I go with you…if I do what you say and ask of me, will you…will you take me there?”
Her voice was full of hope as she looked back up at him, her wide blue eyes so earnest. He understood the darkness that was also in her eyes, though.
“I will take you,” he said, tilting his head to the side to better see her full face in the candlelight. Her heart fluttered in his ears like a moth’s wings. A thrill of fear.
“You do not have to trade your body for my protection. I offer it freely,” he said, narrowing his eyes at her. She blushed even deeper.
“All I need is your help to…fit in with you humans, so I may go unnoticed.”
She nodded eagerly, relief clear in her whole body.
“Where do you need to go?”
He thought back to his questioning of that skinny man with a sneer.
Hollis snorted at his mispronunciation, and he glared. She sobered, pointing to a spot near a peninsula.
“It’s pronounced Seattle, same province as us,” she said, finger trailing back east a ways. He studied the map.
“Not sure, I’ve never left the homestead. But besides small towns, it is the largest one left on this side of the continent.”
Oberon nodded, considering.
“What…” she began, the air crackling with her nerves again. He shot her a glare, sensing her impending questions.
“Why do you need to go there?” she asked, voice quiet and timid. He threw her a dark smirk.
“To rid myself of my creator.”
“Oh,” she said, eyebrows rising briefly in surprise.
“We have come to an agreement then, Hollis?” he asked. She stuck out her hand, sideways and flat. He looked at it in confusion. She withdrew a bit, blushing.
“Teach me,” he commanded, knowing this was a pertinent human custom.
“It’s a handshake. You do it when you meet someone or strike a deal. Put your hand like mine,” she said, waiting until he did so. She slid her small, smooth palm into his, wrapping her fingers around his hand. He did the same, and she bounced their hands up and down a few times before letting go.
Oberon stood, gripping her wrist and towing her up before leaning over to blow out the candle.
“Time for sleep,” he said, pulling her squirming form to the bed.
“Hush. I gave you my word,” he said, voice a bit biting to hide his anxiety. He lay down, wrapping his arm about her waist and tugging her close, sighing in relief at her nearness. Hollis was rigid, shivering, cheek resting on his thick muscled arm. He gripped the quilt, throwing it over them both as he shifted into a more comfortable position.
At least he smelled clean, his scent strange to her—masculine, she surmised, and foreign, but good. The skin of his chest and arm was smooth, warm, the hairs on his legs tickling her own again as he trapped her with his calf. Not knowing where to put her own arms, she rested one on top of his, her other curled up near her face.
His warm breath on the back of her neck sent chills throughout her body, and she shivered again, feeling those same butterflies in her abdomen.
“Are you cold?” he asked, voice low, melodic. Mouth dry, she shook her head.
“Do you need your bear?”
Her heart leapt into her throat as she pushed herself up, having forgotten about Teddy. Oberon let her, his hand falling to her hip as she pulled the bear from under her pillow and laid back down. She felt the sharp tug as he pulled her closer than last time, heat and stiffness flashing along her backside. She blushed, remembering the sight of him nude, wondering what it would feel like to let him have her. It would have to be painful, judging by his unearthly endowment. She wanted to roll her eyes. Of course male scientists would give their creation massive tools for procreation, just as they would likely give a designed female huge breasts and flat stomach.
She sighed, setting aside such thoughts, focusing on the fact that she would be taken to her father’s lands. Perhaps he had family left she could live with. The thought sent a thrill through her. They had a long journey, either way, but at least she had a chance.