Blood and Armour - Sample

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Chapter 3

He woke me before the first threads of daylight broke the sky, his kisses heavy, his hands determined and sure. I reached to him through a dream, welcomed his flesh and his skin against mine. In the fog between sleep and awake, I was unreserved and unworried by the concerns of the day, there was just him and just me…

As the daylight sent shadow scurrying back in the room, the doorbell rang. My skin prickled with dread. “Briar,” he ran a hand along my arm, to smooth and sooth the hair that stood on end there. His lips pressed against my shoulder. His flesh warm, mine cold.

I sat up, drew the bedding against me, a barrier, a weapon between.

He half-dressed again, his own barrier, I realised.

“Open,” he said, his voice hoarse.

The same medic entered. His hair was braided today and threaded with bright points of colour. He wore a winking stone in the lobe of one ear. “Good morning,” he chirped, placing his tray next to my knees. “We know the routine, now.”

Thorn looked away, out the window. I could see his face reflected and his expression was distant, as if he was shutting out the hospital room. The medic pressed the device to my neck before I could respond, and even as I recoiled, held the cup out.

I took it from him, threw the liquid back, and did not look at Thorn as the medic pressed my finger to the device that bit. “Good, good,” the medic was pleased. “Tomorrow, then.”

“Lock,” Thorn said, as he left, and he was on me before I could think, his mouth demanding and dominating. I gasped out in surprise but reached for him. His body commanded and I was a supplicant to his needs. He overwhelmed me with his touch, washed me clean of everything else and left me empty but for him, the taste of him, the touch of his skin, and the sweep of his hair as it fell over me.

As our heartbeats slowed in the space left behind, I pressed my lips to his skin. “You did that on purpose.”

“Yes,” he was unrepentant. “I only have a limited arsenal at my command, damned if I won’t use it to… distract you.”

“Help me,” I supplied for him.

He lifted himself onto his elbow and stroked my hair back from my face. “If I can,” he murmured, “in any small way.”

I reached up and touched his cheek. “Thorn,” I lifted myself up to meet his lips. “This isn’t us. You mustn’t think it us. We are… seeds upon the wind. We can’t change where we are tossed, all we can do is cling together, and hope.”

He had wept before, when I had been injured, tortured by the council. He wept now, his face buried in my hair, his body shuddering with it. I clung to him - my own eyes dry. Held and stroked and soothed. He had been holding this, I realized, perhaps since his injury, certainly through the weeks I had slept and he had not known when, or if, I would wake. It was no weakness to let go of fear and release the tension that had coiled within him so tight.

Somewhere in our embrace, our touches turned needful and our bodies met in the honesty left between in something not quite tender, but raw and upfront, that left us both breathless and replete at the end.

“It is a slow torture,” he said, gazing at the ceiling. “I must stand by and watch and that is torture for me. To know that you are doing this, because of me, enduring this because of me.”

“What do you want?” I asked him, barely more than a breath. “What do you want, when you think of us together, in the future?”

He threaded our fingers and brought mine to his lips. “You said once, let’s steal some rations, and find a hole. Let’s make it ours, and live without morning wake up calls… I think about making somewhere that is just ours, free of the demands of others.”

“And you said we’d get bored,” I reminded him, laughing.

“I lied,” he said, and rolled to cover me, so that his hair blocked the daylight from my eyes and there was only his face and the fall of silver. “I lied.” His lips found mine, set me to flame.

“So,” I ran my fingers through the silver silk. “A farm or something in the middle of nowhere…”

“Where no one can find us…”

“And we can live alone,” I lifted my mouth to his, tasted his lips, and shuddered. “Yes, Thorn. If I was there with you.”

He covered my body with his.

He took me to another place within the hospital, a place where the room was filled with people running on tracks that took them nowhere, and lifted bars fitted with heavy looking rings, that they grunted and groaned about as they lifted up, and lowered down…

We went through this space, to a room with waste disposals and shower-like enclosures. From a closet hidden in the wall, he produced clothing that fit us like a second skin. I looked at him, dubiously.

“I am not sure if I should let you out in public like this,” I told him, which made him laugh.

We went out into the main room, and he strapped padding to his waist and hands. “Come on then,” he challenged me. “You can’t hurt me, show me what you have.”

I went at him, punching, kicking, with my elbows, and we laughed, and tangled, and sweated together, and somewhere in the middle I framed his face with my hands.

“Thorn…” I kissed his lips.

He shook the padding from his hands and drew me hard against him. “Briar,” he pulled back from me. “I want to show you something else…”

He took me to a place where a large hole had been dug into the ground, and his people had covered it in the artificial polymer and filled that with water.

“Pool,” he told me, “Your people had something similar in the past.”

“What do you do with it?” I looked at him, confused.

“See if your tags make you sink,” he grinned, wickedly, and pushed me, so I fell backwards and into the water.

Before my feet even touched the ground, he was in there, with me, drawing me towards the surface, and supporting me as I coughed and spluttered. He drew me to the side and supported me as I clung to the edges.

“I can swim,” I managed to tell him, despite evidence to the contrary.

“I know, I was just testing how well you floated,” he grinned.

I batted at him amused. “So much metal,” I told him, meeting his lips with mine.

“Briar,” he was laughing, but also, not.

“Let’s swim, Thorn,” I told him. “And then we’ll go back to our room…”

We swam, and once our flesh turned wrinkled with the water, he drew me out and wrapped me in a drying cloth, stealing kisses as he dried me. “There,” he murmured. “There we are.”

I wrapped myself around him. “Here we are,” I told him, breathless. He was right, of course, and had done it on purpose – reforged our connection to each other, forcing us past the discomfort of the reason we were at the hospital. He had brought laughter and tenderness back. “What do we do with this, Thorn?” My feelings for him in that moment were too large, too encompassing, too absolute.

“I don’t know,” he knew what I meant, because he felt it too. “I have never known,” he pressed his lips against my jaw and neck. “You look to me for answers, Briar, but this is the first time for me, too. The first time I have loved someone, the first time I have taken a mate. I don’t know what I am doing, any more than you do.”

Our days settled into a rhythm, a pattern of activity. The time together, uncomplicated by missions, or meetings, brothers and kidnappers, was blissful. We spent our time exercising, sparring together, in the pool, or just lay around in bed wrapped in each other. For most of the day and night, we could pretend that we were all that existed - except when that doorbell rang, and they came with their medicines.

On the eleventh day, the medic announced cheerily that the procedure could be done the next morning. Thorn and I looked at each other after he left, our fingers linked.

“I will be relieved when this is done,” he said to me.

“Me too,” I agreed. It did not mean that I was eager for the next day, however I did not say that. It would help either of us for it to be said. “What after, Thorn?”

“After,” he drew me back onto the bed with him, so my head rested on his shoulder and stroked his fingers through my hair. “We will go to my world. My parents and sister are eager to meet you, and my armourer is there.”

“But that is not all, is it?” I could hear it in his voice.

“We have time, Briar,” he said to me. “We don’t have to worry about that part until after tomorrow.”

“I want to know,” I insisted, propping myself up so I could see his face; he did not want to speak about it, and that meant it was not good for us. “Thorn…”

He sighed out a breath. “When we go to the second world, we will be called in, Briar. They have already been in contact. They will want to examine you, see what you can do. In their position, I would not let you go, so that is what I am expecting.”

“What does not letting me go mean?”

“Until there are others with your abilities, they will want to keep you safe and under their control. They will want to ensure progeny by you. We have the advantage there in that you have already donated to the third and now to the first worlds. We may have to offer them the same.”

“Offer them the same,” I realised what he meant, and my hair stood up on end. “No… Not again, Thorn.”

“No,” he squeezed me against him. “I understand you don’t wish to do that. We do have any other eggs from this ovulation as guarantee, and our own natural progeny we can offer.”

“Can they take any children we have, Thorn?”

“No,” he shook his head. “No, that would be unethical, against every law we honour here, and would create a great deal of public outcry were it to occur. But the fact that we will have natural progeny… The other worlds only have three, and there is no limit to how many we can have.” He stroked a hand along my arm thoughtfully. “It may be enough to pacify them.”

“I’m not even sure I am ready for children,” I buried my face against him. “And you’re talking about us having more than three.”

He chuckled, and rolled, taking me with him and leaned over, tracing a line along my cheek. “We can also offer to return to your world in service to them, to find others like you. I am a Seeker, after all… There is no one else more qualified than the two of us combined. So, it is not all bad, Briar, we have options. I am not without hope.”

“Do you want to go back?” I asked him. “Would you want to stay with your family?”

He considered the question. “It is an option,” he said eventually. “It was always an option to bring you back to my home, but I did not imagine, when I first left you, that to do so would be acceptable to you. Your family was so tight knit… I changed that for you, I am sorry.”

“No Thorn,” I leaned up and brushed his lips with mine, “I changed that, or maybe they changed that… I am not sure which. But it wasn’t you.”

“It was because of me. I have read… Willow translated and made copies of what you wrote to your father and I asked her for one. I didn’t understand, really, what you were doing in that place, with all that paper… But I have read it, now…”

I wasn’t surprised that Willow had taken copies. I had known that she would find some way to read it. I was pretty certain that Ash had, at some point, read it or taken a copy, as well. It would be just like him, I thought, though I wasn’t as confident in his ability to translate it...

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Thorn reading it, however. I had not considered how it would read to him, when I had written it, and I felt bad that he had taken responsibility for the divide between my family and myself – I wondered if he had known we were estranged before reading it. There was so much we had yet to discuss.

“I made the choices that brought me to here, and I would make those choices over and over again, to get back to here, because here is where I want to be,” I told him. “Some of those choices my family did not understand. I am hoping that in reading my side, they might, now.” I framed his face with my hands, he turned his lips into my palm and pressed a kiss there. “The distance between us is not your fault. I am hoping they’ll have read my side, and maybe things will be different now…”

“I hope so,” he lay his head beside mine on the bed, half covering me with his body and threaded his fingers between mine. “Would you want to stay on my home planet, Briar?”

I thought about it. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t been anywhere beyond this building so far, haven’t been to your world. I don’t know what life there would look like. What would we do, there? Would you return to your work, and would I never see you? What would I do?”

“You could go to school,” he said, “and learn about anything that took your fancy.”

“I could,” it was an intriguing idea. “There are advantages in your home, Thorn. Things your world offers for us and any children we might have, that my world does not. But the same could be said in the reverse, and a lot of those things your people will bring to our planet…”

“It’s not something we need to decide right now,” he said. “It may not even be within our control.”

I considered that. “I think, in a way, not having control over that would be a relief. I don’t want to make you choose to leave your family, and I don’t want to choose to leave mine.”

“I made that choice, already,” he reminded me, quietly. “I don’t regret that choice. And,” he added, thoughtfully, “no choice has to be final, Briar. We may have to stay on my home world initially, but there will come a time we’ll be free to return to your world. Maybe they’ll find others with your abilities, or maybe they’ll be satisfied once we have a few children. Or vice versa, if we decide we want to bring our children back to the home worlds, it is an option. Nothing has to be final.”

I smiled at him. “I like that idea. We can have the best of both options if we wish.”

“Willow wants you to keep writing,” he told me. “She wants me to provide you with the means to continue to write. She says that your unique perspective on events is important for history.”

“Oh,” I was surprised. “I can’t even remember, now, where I left off, it’s been so long.”

“Willow teaching you at your house,” he supplied.

“You remember that accurately?” I queried him.

“It made an impression,” he replied smiling softly. “I guess it also… filled in some gaps for me.”

“We have a lot of gaps, don’t we?” I said to him.

“We have a lifetime to fill them in,” he wasn’t concerned.

“Do you know why Ash provoked our fight?” I asked him, intrigued.

He lifted himself up on his elbow. “I suspect you do,” he said with a puzzled frown pulling at his brows. “I didn’t realise there was a specific reason. Besides sibling envy.”

“He said that when you went back, that there was a woman he was interested in, who was more interested in you,” I prompted him. The frown deepened, genuine puzzlement in his eyes. “He said she failed to get your attention and wasn’t interested in him, and that it wasn’t the first time that had happened to him.”

“I know his love interest at the time wasn’t that interested in return,” he admitted slowly. “My parents discussed it with me, and it’s partially why I arranged for him to go to your world as they thought he needed some distance to recover. I had to use some political favours to get him onboard the first ship out…

“But I didn’t know when, or even if, I would be able to return, so I thought if I could have someone I trusted looking after you, that was at least something. And, in the worse-case scenario, if I couldn’t return, through him I might have be able to bring you here. It was a bit of a desperate ploy as I wasn’t sure you’d be receptive to the idea, but I was,” he smiled at me, “a desperate man. But, as to Truth’s love dramas…” he shrugged a shoulder. “I didn’t pay much attention. Why do you ask?”

“Just filling in a gap,” I smirked at him.

“Jealous?” his eyes lit with wickedness.

“Of some poor girl whom you don’t even remember?” I flicked a lock of his hair. “What’s there to be jealous of? You and Willow, however…”

“Ahh,” he drew out the breath. “The things a person says after an injury like that shouldn’t be held against them, Briar,” he pleaded. “It was a long time ago, when I was very young. A brief attraction based on nothing more than the fact I admired her combat skills.”

“She wasn’t interested.”

“No.”

“Did she break your heart?”

“No. My ego was bruised a little, but that was all.” He scrutinized me. “I suspect my ego is going to be bruised again. You are teasing me.”

I wrapped my arms around him and drew him down against me, giggling. “Quite successfully,” I kissed his jaw. “You were all worried for a moment there.” He laughed, and met my lips with his own, deepening the kiss so that my heart raced, and my breath became unsteady.

“Well,” he tasted the pulse point beneath my ear. “We are in a hospital… A lot of death happens in hospitals. It does make me wary about upsetting you. The last time you were upset with me, you were...” he smiled. “A challenge.”

“A lot of death here,” I inclined my head to give him better access. “I guess even in your world, it’s inevitable.”

“Everything dies, eventually,” he agreed. “It’s what makes life more poignant, knowing that it’s finite.” He rested his forehead against mine.

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