I sighed, glancing over at the window, which aligned with Vera, the biggest moon in the sky.
“Is nighttime your ‘on’ switch, or something?”
“It is the best time, yes,” Killian resolved. “If everyone is asleep, it makes it less likely for them to hear you chant my name as if I were a god.”
“Sounds explicit,” was the only thing I could say.
He paused. “Would you have me?”
“Because I’m scared,” I answered truthfully.
“Scared of what?”
I bit my lip and looked away. He grabbed my jaw tightly, forcing me to look up at him.
“Everything,” I whispered frantically. “I’m scared of everything.”
“Of what, specifically?”
“I don’t know,” I snapped. “Gods, you ask me these questions and expect me to know the answers like some sort of all-knowing machine. I don’t know why I’m scared, I don’t know what I’m scared of, and I sure as hell don’t know why I want you. You and I, we’re from two completely different worlds with different perceptions of love, dalliances, sex—whatever you want to call it. It would never work out.” He gave me an unsympathizing look and suddenly it all made sense. “Maybe I’m scared that whatever this is will mean nothing to you in the end. And let me tell you something. It would mean the world to me. I’d like to believe you care about me in the same way I’ve learned to care about you. You always wonder if I’m ready or not. Well, the answer is yes. The reason I haven’t given myself away is because of you, Killian. I’m waiting for you to be ready. You can’t expect me to have a dalliance with someone who supposedly doesn’t care, do you?”
It was the truth, straight from my own train of thought, and if it was too much for him to hear, then so be it. Either way, he needed to know. His eyes browsed the assets of my body.
“Would you have me right now if I said I did care about you?”
“I can’t believe you,” I said, shaking my head as I inched my way up towards the head of the bed.
“I don’t understand. What exactly do you want me to say?”
“Did you really expect me to let you have your way with me just because you said what I wanted to hear?”
“It would have been ideal, yes.”
“I can’t believe you!” I repeated, sitting up on my knees as I grabbed a pillow and struck him with it.
He tried shielding himself with his arms, but I was relentless. After a few swings, he grabbed it and tossed them to the floor. I resorted in throwing punches, which didn’t last long at all before he seized my wrists and pinned me down to the bed once again.
“You are so incredibly hard to please.”
“I wouldn’t be if you weren’t such an ass.”
“What do I have to do, darling? Shall I call you my love from now on? What would you like? Say it and it shall be done, sweetheart. You are my world, the air I breathe, the rising and setting of the sun, the stars to my night.”
“Stop it,” I spat. “Right now.”
“Yes, darling, of course, darling, anything you say.” He grinned as he propped my legs up. “Shall I treat you to a foot massage?”
Before I could answer, he wrapped a hand around my ankle and used the other to rub his thumb into my heel. He moved to the arch of my foot, then slowly made his way up my calf, and then to my thighs. The feeling was blissful. So good, in fact, that it silenced me completely, leaving me there with my mouth hung open, ready to utter a word of protest, but it never came. Instead, a moan escaped my lips. As he went higher still, I pushed my hand against his chest.
“No,” I said.
“Jianna.” He cupped my cheek with his hand. “You will enjoy every second of it. I swear. Allow me just this once to touch you, to feel you.”
“Just this once?” I laughed humorlessly. “I don’t have another chance at this. Once it’s done, it’s done. I will have had my first dalliance and it will be over. I can’t risk it.”
“You don’t have to risk anything. You will enjoy it. It will be more than what you bargained for—far more satisfactory than you ever anticipated.”
“But how can you be so sure?”
His silence made me doubtful. He’s not sure, was my immediate first thought. But he didn’t look unsure. It was almost as if he was refusing to answer. His eyes bore into me as he stared down with his lips pursed. Slowly, he shifted on the bed to lie down beside me, never losing eye contact. We watched each other for the longest time until my eyes started to droop, making it impossible for me to stay awake.
Eventually, sleep conquered, sending my subconscious into a deep, dark pit of nothing. And that’s how it was for the next couple of nights, spending them in silence, using our eyes as the only way of communicating. Something about that was special. With words left unspoken, one could interpret another’s facial features in so many ways. A slight arch of a brow, for instance, could mean anything, like a question, or a cocky gesture. However, a smile from him could only mean one thing: mischief.
We played this rewardless game of charades for hours on end until I slipped into unconsciousness. He wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t require much sleep. Every time I woke up in the morning, or even in the middle of the night, he was always awake, watching me. I suppose that made sense, considering he had been sleeping for the past three centuries. On the third morning, I woke up to find him packing everything into his bags. Maintaining the silence we had kept for so long, I followed suit without saying a word. As I crossed the room, I felt a cool, fresh breeze wash over me. I breathed it in, filling my lungs until they couldn’t hold anymore. At some point, he had opened the window, allowing the suns’ shine into the room. Even from here, I could hear the people outside, laughing and talking amongst themselves. I listened to the sound of running footsteps as children played in the streets while I helped Killian pack. For a moment, everything seemed perfect. I was finally going to Nou Vil to find my real mother, and Killian would be able to find a way back to his people.
“It’s not too late, you know.”
Killian’s soft voice was the first to break the silence. It shattered the mystery and tranquility of our game, ultimately ruining the mood for me entirely. I glanced at him with a sour look.
“What do you mean?” I retorted.
“If you stay here,” he explained, “you can live a happy life with your true parents and you can be free of our false dalliance.”
I started shoving my things into the bag unceremoniously, clenching my teeth.
“I’m coming with you,” I said, attempting to control my harsh tone. “We’ve already told them we were leaving together, so it’s final. Don’t bring it up again.”
“Why can’t you be happy with what you have?” he said.
I stood abruptly, striding over to where he stood, looking him straight in the eyes.
“It’s not good enough for me.”
His face morphed into the epitome of fury. “You are the most selfish creature I have ever met.”
Logic told me to ignore that comment, but I refused to let it go.
“Fuck you,” I growled.
He smirked. “Be my guest.”
I backhanded him as hard as I could, succumbing to the spike of anger that surged through me. It had been a while since I took it out on him like that. He seemed unfazed, but it felt good knowing I had caught him off-guard this time, considering he never made a move to stop me. My voice quivered as I spoke.
“Your lack of respect for me isn’t exactly helping your case,” I said.
He chuckled as he rubbed his jaw. “How was that disrespectful? Please, enlighten me.”
Without saying a word, I gave him a dirty look, turning away from him so I could finish packing.
“You were practically asking for it,” he added.
“No, Killian, I wasn’t. In fact, I never asked for any of this, so could you please—just please—leave me alone?”
“Should I leave all this to you, then?”
I threw my clothes down on the floor. “If it’ll get you to shut up, then yes.”
“Oh my,” he said, clicking his tongue with disapproval. “Now you’re throwing a tantrum.”
I balled my hands into fists and pressed them against my temples. “Stop.”
“Look at you, trying to fight it,” he sneered. “How pathetic. Perhaps your parents don’t deserve such a selfish child.”
Yes, while he was right about me being selfish, it still had nothing to do with him. I knew leaving Na-Na and Poppy was wrong, but I also had to think of myself. For approximately twelve years, I had been living in the shadow of my past, and not because of what I had done, but because of what I had lost. Since the time Hyler found me in Nou Vil, I had had an image of what my life might have looked like before the darkness that haunted me for so long. To this day, that darkness followed, looming over my head. It had been clouding me from the truth for so long, and this opportunity to go to the one place that started it all was vital to my very existence.
I wanted to tell Killian this. I wanted him to understand why I was willing to go through such measures if it meant finding my real mother. He needed to know that, to me, every day felt incomplete. At this point, I had been so flooded by my emotions that I hadn’t seen him slowly making his way towards me. Suddenly he was right there, looking down at me, his face slowly thawing to a much softer expression the closer he got. His hand found my wrists and he gently pulled my hands away from my head. I was confused by his motives until he wiped away the tears that stained my face with his thumb.
“I don’t mean to be harsh,” he said softly, looking into my eyes. “But you are so stubborn.”
I sniffled and blinked a couple of times before I spoke. “Look, I know I’m with my family now, and I understand I should be thankful for that since your family is worlds away, trapped and frozen in time, but…I have to find my real mother. She’s my family, too.”
I could tell he wasn’t pleased with what I said, but he held his tongue.
Na-Na was nearly buzzing with excitement as she caught the sight of me holding hands with Killian. He had forced me to put on this little show as we descended the stairs, ignoring my quiet protests as he laced his fingers in mine. If we hadn’t just been fighting, I wouldn’t have been so uncomfortable with the idea. In fact, I would have liked to hold his hand, but this? This was so forced and so fake. I hated it. He gave my hand a good squeeze before he spoke.
“Would it be alright if I take Jianna into town?” he asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Na-Na said with a smile. “Besides, I’ll need some time to put up the decorations and prepare the food.”
She had been working so hard for the past few days, preparing tons of elaborate dishes that would feed a family for a week. Personally, I think she just needed an excuse to make something special for me to make up for the lost time.
As soon as she gave Killian the okay, he started pulling towards the front door.
“Thank you so much!” he exclaimed. “I promise I’ll take good care of her.”
I wanted to give her a pleading look as I looked back one last time before closing the door behind me. When we were outside, I yanked my hand from his.
“I’m not sure if I like you playing with her emotions like that.” I said, following him down the street. “Faking our dalliance is one thing, but that? That was just wrong.”
He kept quiet, refusing to acknowledge my presence, and continued walking.
“So you’re just going to ignore me now, is that it?”
With a sigh, I added, “Can you at least tell me where we’re going?”
“Lithia’s Brew,” he said in a monotone voice.
I arched a brow even though he couldn’t see.
“You know what that is, right?” I asked him.
He laughed. “If anything, I am surprised you know what it is. Then again, you Skelts have stolen everything else from humans, so it shouldn’t be that surprising. However, considering this planet has different fruits and vegetables, I am curious as to what your alcohol tastes like. Fundamentally, it shouldn’t taste much different. Nevertheless, I am willing to try it.”
“What if I don’t want to go to the brew?”
“Consider this my gift to you.”
“You don’t even have any money.”
Again, he put up a silence between us, and I didn’t even try to tear it back down. Instead, I searched for ways to make the trip to the brew much more exciting by looking at my surroundings. Technically, I should have been wearing a hood over my head, seeing as I was still wanted here. Killian had made it impossible, however, when he yanked me out the door without much warning. I had to admit, though, that it was nicer this way. It almost felt like I belonged again.
For the most part, nothing had changed. I could say one thing for certain, though. The streets and the houses looked a little shabbier than I remembered. Three years have gone by, I reminded myself. Some of the houses had chipped paint and overgrown weeds in the garden. One could hardly tell that the streets beside them were made of pretty stone what with all the grime that grew in the cracks and crawled over the surface. In short, I had escaped the Gods’ Kingdom, only to return to a beggar’s corner. It was strange what time could do to a place like this. Aside from the shabbiness, everything else was the same. The tree that all the kids would hang around was still beside the bakery. The people I knew from before were still living in the same houses. Lithia’s Brew came into view after a while, and a flood of memories triggered a deep sadness inside my soul. It was one thing that hadn’t changed a bit. Unlike everything around it, Lithia’s Brew was like a shining star. I ran to catch up with Killian, who had managed to put some distance between us with his long strides and lack of consideration for how short I was compared to him. We walked right in, the sound of wild music hitting us without hardly any warning, considering the building was practically soundproof.
“Some present,” I muttered under my breath.
He ignored me and made his way to the counter. It was so dark that I could hardly see where I was going. The only light in this place was the red glow from the coming from stage and the orange bulbs from the bar. The sun had been so bright outside that my eyes had a hard time adjusting to my new environment. Eventually, I joined Killian at the counter, blinking a few times in hopes of speeding up the adjustment process.
“I can’t believe you dragged me here of all places,” I mumbled.
“Oh, come now,” he said. “I thought we could have a bit of fun.”
I gave him a look before glancing around. There weren’t very many people, considering it wasn’t a work day. Most of them were undoubtedly outside, basking in the suns’ rays. Still, the band played on with their instruments, their rough voices ringing with incomprehensible words. Somewhere in the room, someone laughed loudly and obnoxiously.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been here,” I said, mostly to myself.
“Were you a regular?” he asked, cocking his head to the side.
I nodded, pursing my lips.
“You were only sixteen,” he stated.
“What?” I said. “Can’t sixteen-year-olds drink on Earth?”
He grinned, and said, “They can, but they’re not exactly permitted to do so. The drinking age varies from twenty to twenty-five.”
I furrowed my brows. That was such a strange concept for me to grasp. Drinking had always been tradition here, no matter what age. Though most parents didn’t let children younger than twelve drink (because they actually had common sense), thirteen was the ideal “drinking age”.
“That makes no sense,” I said.
“It makes perfect sense if you know that Earth’s population is at an all-time high of approximately thirteen billion people. Among them, there is bound to be someone who handles alcohol irresponsibly. There has to be some sort of restriction to keep that many people under control.”
“Did you just say there are thirteen billion people on Earth?” I said, gawking. “Thirteen billion?”
“Not exactly on. Some of them live in the sky.”
I furrowed my brows, struggling to understand. “So, they’re gods?”
He gave me a strange look, studying me as if I were something new to him.
“No,” he said, just barely audible over the music. “They live on ships that levitate above the clouds. Mind you, not all of them are human. I, for one, am not.”
“Then what are you?”
He looked away, catching the eye of the man behind the counter.
“I am a science project,” he said.
The words sounded like venom in his mouth, making me regret asking him at all. He got the man’s attention and asked for the strongest they had. To my surprise, he paid with coins.
“Where did you get that?” I said, desperate to change the subject as I watched him pour two glasses.
“I pickpocketed them yesterday while you were sulking in your room,” he said, handing me one. “Which, by the way, reminds me—why were you sulking?”
I took a drink to hide my blush. It only made it worse.
“I wasn’t sulking,” I said, wincing at the burning in my throat.
“Oh, but you were. Was it because I wasn’t there?”
“I assure you, I’m not that obsessed with you,” I said sarcastically, taking another drink.
A small smile played on his lips as he watched me. “What was it, then?”
Now it was my turn to look away. Yesterday, I had been thinking about how much I wanted to stay here in Twixton. I had missed it for too long to leave so soon. If it hadn’t been for the possibility that my mother was still alive, I probably would have chosen to stay here. However, I knew that if I told him all this it would only start yet another fight, and I didn’t have the strength to handle that. The one we had had this morning was enough for one day, or maybe even for the rest of my life.
“It was nothing,” I said finally. “I was just tired.”
“That is the worst lie I have ever heard in my life.”
I gave him a hard look. “Why can’t you just respect that I don’t want to talk about it?”
“Because apparently, I lack respect for you anyway, so I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.”
“Please don’t do this,” I said quietly, taking another swig. “As a matter of fact, there is a reason why I don’t want to talk about it.”
I sighed frustratedly and said, “I know that if I tell you, it’ll just turn into a fight. I don’t want to fight today, so could you please just shut up and drink?”
He was quiet after that, taking the first sip out of his own glass. I scowled at him, and took another gulp out of mine.
“Slow down,” he said. “That’s all you’ve done is take large mouthfuls at a time.”
Now I was the one ignoring him, purposely taking yet another gulp.
“I hope you know that I will be the one to carry your drunken ass home, and that, my dear, will look bad on both of us.”
I snickered at the image of him slinging my limp body over his shoulder like a sack of seeds. Oh, the looks people would give us!
“I can’t imagine what would happen should you decide to get drunk with me,” I laughed.
He smirked and said, “Sorry to ruin the mood for you, but I have a very high tolerance for alcohol.”
I grimaced. “Well, that’s not very fun. But if you could, what kind of drunk do you think you’d be?”
He tilted his head in a way that the light caught his eyes. For a split second, my breath hitched and my heart stopped beating. The color was so intense that it was impossible to tear my gaze from him, and I was left staring as he thought for a moment. I snapped out of my trance when he spoke.
“I imagine I would be the angry, violent drunk who spoils the party,” he said with a tight smile.
I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and shook my head furiously.
“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh? By all means, explain.”
“Well,” I began, turning to face him. “Since you’re already violent and ruin everything when you’re sober, I think you would be a happy drunk.”
He chuckled, and I blushed.
“I’m serious!” I said.
“No, no, I believe you,” he laughed. “I just think you’re wrong.”
“Okay, fine. What kind of drunk do you think I am?”
“You’re the one who dances and screams obnoxiously whilst spilling your drinks on everyone without a care in the world. Am I correct?”
My eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“So, I’m correct?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “I mean, I don’t know. Hyler always said that I…opened up a little.”
He shrugged. “I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling.
“So what?” I said, finishing the rest of my drink. “I can see you being the emotional drunk, too. That’s way worse than being the partier.”
“I doubt that.”
“It is,” I insisted. “Hyler was an emotional drunk. He would always say such horrible things…”
A flash of irritation spiked through me as I felt the tears start to burn my eyes. I blinked them away furiously, grabbing the bottle that was left for us, and took a few gulps. The familiar buzzing inside my head soothed all the emotions away. I laughed nervously, putting the bottle down beside my glass. He brushed his fingers against my hand.
“Let’s play a drinking game,” he said quietly.
I arched a brow at him, moving my hand away from his. “That’s hardly fair.”
“You’re wrong. It’s not fair at all.”
I grinned. Naturally, I accepted, which probably wasn’t a good idea, but what the hell? This was our last day in Twixton and it was my dalliance celebration. How else were we going to have fun? Killian made up the rules of the game. Whoever drank the most shots in five minutes would win, but there was a catch.
“No hands allowed,” he said with a fire in his eyes.
We got a couple of people on the other side of the brew to pour us the drinks. By the time the game was set up, we had drawn a crowd to the counter. The whole time, he kept his eyes on me. He sat up straight, clasping his hands together behind his back. I did the same, smiling at him. The brewer counted from three to zero, and the game began. My first shot mostly ended up on my clothes rather than in my mouth as I captured the rim of the glass with my lips, leaning back so that I could drink. I laughed hysterically as I set it back down and tried again with the next shot. Killian took his time, and for a minute, I thought was in the lead. Everyone cheered me on and I grinned. I soon realized, however, that he was catching up, so I pushed myself harder to drink more as fast as I was capable of going.
After three minutes, one glass slipped from my lips like the first one had, falling to the floor with a clunk. He took advantage of this in every way, going faster than he had before with perfect method. I only did much worse after that as I started to feel the effects of the alcohol running through my system. The crowd continued to cheer me on, but I knew it was hopeless. Nothing was stopping him now.
“One minute!” someone shouted.
My mind was now completely muddled, slow and relatively useless. Time was called, leaving me utterly defeated. Killian wiped his mouth and grinned at me.
“Pay up,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I laughed. “We didn’t bet on anything.”
“You didn’t. But I did.”
He gave me a look.
Had I not been intoxicated, I would have punched him. On the contrary, the alcohol in my blood made me so bold as to throw my arms around him, bringing our lips together in a sloppy kiss as everyone cheered. My outrageous laughter is what tore us apart. After everyone congratulated Killian, they laughed and walked away, talking excitedly amongst themselves. It was the first time I had done something with him that was genuinely fun. But just when all seemed well, I turned and spotted the face of bad news as it walked through the door. I sobered up almost instantly.
had been so careless. But who could blame me? The possibility had seemed so unreal, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Even as I watched Stilla, the leader of the smuggling business I had worked for, from across the room, I had a hard time believing my own eyes. Desperately wishing that this was all just a dream, I glanced up at Killian, and said: