"Kiss while your lips are still red."


Snow drifted silently down from the grey skies above and fell upon Valasse's head, causing her to glance upward momentarily. Tears rolled down her cheeks in a steady rhythm as her eyes fell again and scanned the lane before her. The boy beside her laced his fingers with hers and squeezed tightly. She squeezed back with little strength for she had hardly anything left in her. It was all zapped from her petite frame in an instant.

"Val, let's go." The boy said slowly, quietly, like he was afraid anything above a whisper might break the world apart.

Valasse nodded and turned to him. He gave her a weak smile, but she broke into sobbing and flung her arms around him. He stumbled a bit, but righted himself and held onto her firmly. "She's not coming back?"

"No… she's not, but you'll," The boy's throat seemed to close up when he tried to form the words. Dread seeped inside him at the thought. "You'll see her again someday. It will hopefully be years and years from now… but you'll see her again."

"Why her? Why my mother? You won't let him take me will you?" Her voice was full of dread and agony.

"That's why we're leaving, silly. Of course I won't let him take you." The words, spoken with a lighter air than before, seemed to lift the young girl's spirits a little. She pulled away and the boy wiped the tears from her cheeks. He then took her hand again and started walking away from the icy dirt road that lead up into the woods toward a house where unspeakable things had occurred. He wanted to put all that behind him and Valasse and he would do his best to make sure it was behind them.

The road before them though would be just as treacherous as the one they came from for the past is not one to let go easily.

Chapter One

"Val! What are you doing?" Aster shouted, smacking his head as Valasse staggered between the swinging kitchen doors and nearly dropped the plates she was carrying. He rushed forward and caught them, taking them from her arms. "You're such a clutz. Take a few at a time, not fifty." He sighed in exasperation as Valasse pouted. "Go help Tarina at the bar. I'll take care of these."

Valasse glared at him a moment, but Aster refused to give in and she turned and headed back out the doors. "Ugh! Tarina he's such a pain! I just tripped a little."

Tarina, a middle aged woman with auburn hair to her waste and a bit of a plump waistline, chuckled as she wiped down the bar top. "He just doesn't want you getting hurt. If you had fallen and those plates had broken you would have been in a lot of pain, my dear. Terracotta is sharp when it shatters."

"Yeah, but ever since we were little he's been over protective like that. He never lets me do anything because he's worried I might get hurt!" She rolled her eyes and helped dry the counter while Tarina washed it.

"I don't blame him for being protective. You shouldn't either." She gave Val a severe look and Val took her turn to sigh in exasperation. "Go rest, I'm almost done here." She turned Valasse away and Val huffed before heading upstairs to her room. Almost as soon as she was gone Aster moved from the shadows by the kitchen doors and into the light at the bar.

"She calls me a pain…"

"You are a pain, Aster. I can understand why you're protective, as I told Valasse, but I think you're taking it too far. You should be protective of her with other people, but with day to day tasks… just let her be. So she gets a few cuts and bruises – she's human and it happens. As long as he didn't cause them it's alright, true?" Aster opened his mouth to object, but Tarina spoke and added, "You promised to keep her safe from him, not from herself. You're stifling her and she's going to start to hate you for it. You want to stay with her don't you?"

"Of course," Aster scoffed, as if it should be quite obvious.

"Then give her room to make mistakes and learn from them. Give her space to breathe. Just watch her from a safe distance - close enough to step in when she needs it, but far enough that she can't feel your breath on her neck constantly."

Aster stared across the bar to the woman in silence. After a moment he hung his head and let out a long breath. "I guess you're right. Always so wise, Tarina."

"That's why you hired me." She chuckled and headed for the kitchens with her dirty rags. Meanwhile Aster headed upstairs to see Valasse.

He knocked on her door lightly and she grumbled a reply to it. "What do you want?"

"Can I come in?"

"No." Aster rolled his eyes at her response and opened the door anyway. "Why bother asking if you're going to disregard the answer?"

"Because I try to have manners, but it's hard when you're so difficult." He retorted, leaning against her bureau and watching her as she lay on her bed, flipping the pages of a book she was reading. "I wanted to apologize for earlier, for… everything really. Tarina and I had a chat and… well I admit that I have been over protective of you these past few years. I should let you make the many mistakes you'll make and I should let you have a little freedom. I just got into this state of mind where I worried so much about him coming and hurting you that the worry spread like a disease to all other aspects of your life. I worried about everything you did and everything that could happen to you. I promised to protect you from him though and not from yourself, so I'll try and lighten up. Ok?"

Val scanned him thoroughly, like she was checking for any signs that he might be lying or hiding something. Satisfied that she didn't notice anything beyond sincerity she nodded and went back to her book. "Yeah, ok."

"That's it? Just… 'yeah, ok'?"

"Mhmm. You can go now." She said flatly, but Aster narrowed his eyes and slowly stalked up on the bed. She glanced at him out of the corner of her own eyes and squeaked as he suddenly pounced on her. "Aster!"

"What?" He laughed as he wormed his hands between her arms and managed to tickle her sides, making her squirm and giggle.

"S-stophaha!" Val could not keep a straight face or the laughter from her lips. She wiggled her way out of his grasp and then proceeded to tackle him onto his back so she could pin him down. "Evil!"

"Heh," Aster chuckled, smirking up at her in a way that truly proved her words. "Am I ever evil?"

"All the time!" Val complained, scoffing at his attempt to make his smirk more innocent.

In a sudden and unpredictable motion, Aster sat up, careful to catch Val before she fell off the bed. He pulled her close to him and brushed her dark chestnut hair behind her ears. She stared at him in shock a moment, shock that only grew worse as he leaned in and kissed her rather passionately. Her shock quickly subsided to be replaced with panic. She shoved him away, falling backwards off his lap and onto the floor. She scrambled to her feet quickly and stared across the ten foot gap she had put between them, clinging to her bureau for dear life.

"W-what was that?!" She asked, confusion apparent on the edge of her words.

Aster was beet red and flustered himself. "I… I don't know. I just acted!"

"Ugh! I told you, you should have paid more attention to your own life. You should have gone out and gotten yourself a girlfriend – or hell, just gotten laid – instead of worrying so much about me!" She was shaking a bit, completely taken off guard by his actions.

"But I never want-" Aster stopped mid –sentence as he saw the look of repulsion and horror on Valasse's face. He frowned deeply and stood up. "Sorry." That was what he left it at as he walked to her door and out it. He leaned against the closed door a moment before pushing away from it and stomping to his room, slamming the door harshly. As he collapsed beside his bed and put his head in his hands he couldn't figure out if he was more angry or sad with the situation.

At the same time Val had slid down her bureau and now sat in a ball on her floor, staring at the ground with awe. Her hand reached up to her lips, fingers shaking as they touched the delicate flesh that felt as if it were burning. Tears formed at the corners of her eyes, but she could not be sure of why. Was it because her first kiss had been stolen by Aster? Or was it because she ruined it by pushing him away?