A/N: Hey y'all! This is actually my first shot at writing a true romance story, where my narrator is in love with someone, and isn't watching one guy fall in love with another girl. It's probably the only romance I'm truly proud of. I love this story.

I wrote it after I'd finished writing a test-I had fifteen minutes to waste, and I was truly missing my native place, and then this came along and formed itself. I just had to write it down.

And if you've gotten till probably half the story, let me know where it just wasn't right for you. It'll help me change this and grow.

Well, enough about me. Let's get to the story!

Scent of a Mother

I grinned as I looked outside the window, waving madly at my best friends standing outside. The hooligans they were, they were screeching goodbyes as the bus rolled off, yelling, "Bye, Rori!" the whole way. Gods, but I loved my best friends. They were the only family I had, especially since my grandmother-I called her Nana-passed away a few weeks back.

The smile vanished, and I felt tears filling my eyes. My Nana...she was my only family, ever since...

"Hey, dearie. Are you alright?"

I blinked and looked up. My co-passenger was a nice old lady who was kind enough to share some homemade bread with me a few minutes before, when I let her know I hadn't packed any food. I nodded and sniffed. "It's just...I'm going back, after so long..." I looked away as tears began to brim again, and a painful lump got caught in my throat. Remembering it was awful, talking about it...

"I'm sorry, darling. It is hard, I know it is. But surely there must be someone waiting for a nice girl like you?"

"There"-I stopped to think. My Nana was dead, my mother was dead. But he was waiting for me. I nodded.

"Now you go to sleep, dearie, before we reach the hills-sleeping then will be as impossible as asking my grandson to not put his finger in the peanut-butter jar."

I laughed. This old lady was awesome.

With a sigh, I picked up the blanket the conductor had provided the passengers, wrapped it around me, and snuggled deep into my seat, and slowly fell into a deep sleep, dreaming about him...

The night wind was hitting my body, sending my hair back in the wind, pulling at the tails of my shirt and the edges of my horse-skin pants which protected me from his hard scales. The scales felt cool under my pants, but there was a warmth that filled the pit of my stomach whenever I was with him.

I felt him buckle under me, throwing me up. I shrieked as the movement flung me into the air, and I was pulled down, without him underneath me. I closed my eyes and fell, fell, fell…

My eyes snapped open as two warm, strong arms wrapped around my waist, and I saw him grinning down at me, the excitement in his eyes matching mine.

Before I could tell him I love you, I grabbed his head and kissed him.

We floated down like this—I in his arms, he in mine, mouths locked together. Down, down, down…

The scene changed. He was next to me, my arm resting lightly on his scales burning hot with anger. My hand held him back from snapping at them, and although he wanted to kill Graille, I didn't want them to hurt him again.

He killed Elizabeth!" Graille yelled manically. "He killed her mother!"

I saw all the hostile looks they flashed at him, and felt a growl rumble from under my arm. Cross could've never killed my mother, ever-he loved my mother like he would his own. I knew it was foolish, yet I stood in front of him, protecting him from the stares and the glares and the sneers and the glances that held despicability. These fools hated the very beings that saved their arses, the messengers and children of the very deities they worshipped.

"The Spirits should judge him!" someone yelled.

I felt a warmth behind me—and it wasn't from him. I turned around and met five calm gazes.

"We will judge him."

"Don't kill him! He couldn't have killed mom!" I heard someone yell. It was me. "He wouldn't have!"

"I fear the Princess is in disagreement with me," I heard the merged voices of the Elder Spirits saying. "Will you agree to follow the judgement I pass, Princess, if it doesn't kill him?"

I could see, through a yellowish white-tinted vision, his huge form lying on the ground, crumpled and unconscious. My mouth dried up and my heart beat slower, fearfully. Anything to keep him alive, I thought. Anything.

The Goddess kept quiet and thought; although we shared the same body, she kept her thoughts to herself, rarely mixing them with mine, but she could read my thoughts like an open book.

"Alright," I heard her many voices say together. "I have decided. But, are you sure you will do this?"

"What is it?"

"Unless your grandmother, the Queen dies, you will never come back. He will not be able to become a beast of the Sky anymore, but will have to stay here, tend to the Gardens and their demons."

I looked at his unconscious body. He would hate me for this.

"He will never be a beast of the Sky again."

He would hate me with a vengeance."

"Until he is touched by my powers."

So be it.

Anger welled up in me, a live, ugly thing. I was going to find the beast which killed my mother, even if it meant hunting down every beast that carried the stain of Death. I would avenge, and I would find the beast who murdered my mother.

The murderer's stains would carry the scent of my mother's blood.

The anger bubbled in my core, into my stomach, up my throat and into my mouth, burning my insides as it rose. It boiled out of my mouth and onto my body, burning as it rushed down and pooled at my feet.

It hurts, it burns…it burns, it burns! Let me go! Aargh!

I yelped as I awoke, my body drenched in sweat. A dream, I thought as I gulped in air. A sweet dream turned into a nightmare.

Just like my life.

From outside my window, I heard the crunch of gravel. It was nostalgic—I hadn't been here for years—and it made me feel like the child I had been, a long time ago: energetic, excited, ready to run, play, climb trees. I gathered my backpack and my two large suitcases, and stretched. There was something about sleeping in a bus that made my teeth ache. The bus drew to a halt, and the driver yelled "Aranbury!"

My lips curled upwards—it really couldn't be called a smile. Aranbury. That name drew up too many memories for comfort, and nostalgia was something I had no experience dealing with. I picked up my suitcases and made my way outside, smiling at the driver as I went out. He grinned at me. "See you 'round." I nodded in reply, and got off, standing there long after the bus had driven off, not really wanting to go back.

I sighed and pulled myself together. Picking up my bags, I looked around. It was early in the morning; everybody would be preparing for the day. In front of me was the road leading to my destination. I exhaled slowly and walked.

The grass muffled the crunch of gravel beneath my feet—another sound that reminded me of the days when I'd run, urging my mother to hurry up. Those days were long gone, had passed nearly seven years ago, and it was only me walking down that gravel path with tufts of grass emerging from in between.

I looked around. There was a lot around me-some lakes, a few old mansions, and a scary looking gnarled tree which was famous for its ghost stories. In front of me—probably thirty feet away—was the enormous banyan tree called 'The Old one' by the locals. After walking down the road, I found the other trees—the orange tree or 'The Small one', the mango called 'The Naughty one', the neem called 'The Wise one' and the cherry tree or 'The Beautiful one'.

I groaned as my eyes fell on the pink blossoms of the cherry tree. Way too many memories flashed in my mind, all of which I managed to push away with great difficulty.

And I was there. I felt around with my foot for a pedal and a huge button. I felt the metal against my sandaled foot, and pushed the pedal thrice and the button once. The gate swung open, and I grinned. We would irritate mom by pressing the pedal again and again as soon as we'd arrive, and keep doing so until our luggage ridden and harried mom would reach us and give us a piece of her mind. My grin faded as soon as the memory faded. With a small smile, I walked through the gate, and pushed the gate back in place with my foot. I walked down the pebble-laden path, partially hidden by knee-tall grass.

I walked up the stairs and pushed the key into the keyhole, revelling in the whirr of old gears-it'd been so long since I'd heard that sound. I walked in with my sandals, deposited my suitcases and pack in my bedroom, and unlocked the front door. For that, I had to remove the beams across the door, pull the bolts out of the boltholes, and place the beams against the wall next to the doors. I threw open the doors and breathed in the fresh air, scented by the aroma of unripe mangoes and cherry flowers. The scent had thoughts pulsing through my mind, and I began pushing them to the corner in my head.

The notes of melancholia flowing from a familiar flute were the undoing of all my work.

I slowly sat on the step as memories gushed in like restrained water from an opened dam, aided by the mellifluous notes of sad music. Joy, sadness, anger—passion of every kind ran in and out of my head again and again, took me through those times of laughter, tears and frustration. I was left reeling, water streaking my cheeks, at the end. The song, too, ended, and I was left in silence, the swish of trees and the rustle of leaves in the breeze amplifying that silence.

In control of myself, I rose and moved to the cherry blossom tree, knowing that the flute player would be there.

"Cross," I said slowly.

The man under the tree looked up at me, his yellow eyes glittering as brilliantly as diamonds, appearing just as hard. But something about his expression softened as he recognized me. "What a pleasant surprise." His face showed feigned concern. "Have you been crying, Prin"—

"What are you doing here?" I said through my clenched jaw. Honestly, I had no time for his sarcasm, and I'd love to tell him exactly where he could put it.

A look causal enough to irritate me to the point of breaking took over his rugged face. "I," he said slowly, "am the gardener. Nana hired me."

"Of course she would. She's Nana." It was the most obvious thing in the world.

"I'd thought you'd at least be back for the holidays, once a year," he said, rising. At full height, he was a vision formidable and beautiful at the same time. His raven wing's mane curled just over his shoulders, and he tied it at the base of his head with a black rope that hung over his shoulders. "But it isn't holiday time." Realisation appeared on his face, and sadness accompanied it. "When"—

"Three weeks ago," I choked out, remembering the anguish that tore through me at the sight of the telegram. Cross looked at the sky, his hands on his hips. "It was a dark day," he said. "Aunt Liza always said that Nature mourns when those closest to her die."

Sadness burst out of me, drowning me as all the repressed emotions were unleashed. I hugged—more like tackled—Cross, wrapping my hands tightly around his stomach, burying my head in his chest. Sob after sob shook through me like tremors, shaking me as the sorrow took over me. His smell…


I eased out of his grasp as a thought flashed across my mind, and looked at him. "Thanks."

He smiled, confirming my suspicions. "It's alright. You needed it."

I fingered the cord holding his hair absently, then pulled, not too surprised to see the transformation before me. "Hey, Graille. Nice acting skills. And who taught you the trick to change your appearance?"

He gasped at me. Always the dramatist, he was. "But how did you"—

"Well, if you were Cross, you'd a) have kissed me after the first ten seconds of our meeting, b) wouldn't have been so nice or sweet; honestly, he's the rudest person I've known. Let's see, c) you wouldn't have played such sad notes on that flute of his; you know how powerful that flute's music is. Then, d) you wouldn't have tied your hair when you were here; you'd always leave it open"—

"By my design or yours," Graille completed wryly.

"Exactly." I managed to pull back most of my blush. Damn, but why did that image of us making out under the cherry tree have to pop up? "Then, what else? Oh yes, e) you wouldn't be awake so early and f)" I said as I moved back, "you wouldn't smell like Nana."

He paled, and something flickered in his eyes. I continued, "You haven't washed all that blood off you, Graille." I undid my sweatshirt and eased it off, revealing my vest and three-fourths. Around my waist was a belt; hung from the belt was a whip with an ornate handle. My hand rested on the handle as I looked at Graille. "Cross would've been rude to me, and tactless. But, Graille? Cross wouldn't lie. Ever."

My finger stroked the handle slowly, my mouth reciting incantations. The Old one, The Naughty one, The Wise one, The Small one and The Beautiful one glowed to blinding extents and out of that light emerged the five Spirits—Achiki, The Old one; Nadora, The Small one; Rorik, The Naughty one; Golng, The Wise one and Idinari, The Beautiful one.

He stood in between the circle we formed, his fear clear on his face. He turned to his actual form, or tried to. I cracked my whip at him and he screamed as the clothes covering his torso were sliced into half, revealing his half transformed body. His one eye was red, his other blue; his one hand was scaled and clawed, his other human; and while his chest held flesh and skin, his stomach was covered in emerald green scales, clear like the still water under a summer sky, showing the yellow glow that burned fiercely in the core of each clear green scale. But, a yellow stain ran over the scales at his stomach, making the scales opaque, hiding their glow and clarity.

This dragon had broken the rules.

"Princess"—he screamed in pain as my whip cracked over the stained scales on his stomach, stopping his transformation from taking place any further.

"The Princess is long gone, Graille," Rorik said, and the Spirits knelt before me.

"Rise," I said in a voice not mine, but that of many wiser, older Spirits that lived in my body. Lovely. The Goddess had gotten out of her little corner in my body, and now shoved my consciousness into it, making all the actions of my body hers. Now, I was no longer a participant-she was. I was just an observer, nothing more.

Graille was on his knees, his eyes wild, his face begging for forgiveness. "Please do not judge me, G"—

The Goddess laughed in the voice of the many spirits that she ruled over. "Judge you? Nay, Graille, I shall not, for you judge yourself. You knew the rules—you are forbidden to kill those of your own kind or those of your parents', being the half-child of a spirit. Yet, you judged Nana, your Queen, and killed her. The stained scales on your body mark you as guilty, Graille, not I." The Goddess turned to Nadora. "You will not pass judgement, Small one. Just the way Idinari did not when her son was being judged."

Nadora bowed to the Goddess. "I shall comply. But, I wish to speak."

The Goddess nodded to her, ignoring the whispers of the spirits in the circle. "Speak."

"Thank you. My so—Graille, the dragon, is in love with the Princess."

The Goddess looked at Graille. Courage filled his eyes. "It was the only way to get you—her back, G"—

"You killed, Graille."

"I had to!" he yelled, his fear forgotten as desperation took its place. "I love you, but you wouldn't come back after judging Cro"—

"We have reserved judgement on him," Achiki said in the voice of an old man. "There was no proof. Just the word of his cousin brother."

"Cross killed your mother!" Graille yelled, like he had so many years ago.

"If he has," The Goddess said with a calm I did not feel, "he will be marked, and that mark will punish him." The Goddess turned to Achiki. "Your judgement?"

He nodded; so did the others. Nadora said, "He did this for love."

The Goddess turned to Graille yet again, and he nodded desperately. "I love you."

Anger welled inside me, and the Spirits shrunk away. When I spoke, only my voice was heard, strained and angry. "People kill for love. People die for love. But those who lie in the name of love are cowards, and cowards cannot love." I raised my whip, repeating my promise. "Bear the stain of Death, beast, and I shall slay you."

It was well into the day. I coiled my whip and fixed it to my belt. I looked at the thousands of flowers that lay at my feet. They were green, clear as the still water on a summer morn, with streaks of yellow shooting out from the centre of each petal. Each flower for each scale¸ I thought as Nadora sighed. "He was a good dragon."

I didn't say a word, but I dropped the flower onto the huge pile. The wind would carry them with it, letting it float until it withered—the fitting burial for the beast of the sky, for a dragon.

I felt like I'd run a mile—these judgement things always made me bone-tired. I turned around and walked towards the house. The five of them followed me, running into the house and chattering, their voices similar to the tinkle and chime of many bells in the air.

I turned to Rorik. "Is he"—

"Turn the volume down, you stupid Spirits!" I heard the familiar growl from one of the rooms.

I grinned. Trust Cross to sleep in rather than receive me from the train station. Even as a kid, Nana had to drag him along.

"He is the rudest, grossest, tactless and most gluttonous dragon-spirit ever!" Golng complained.

"He refused to tend to the flowers, weed the grass, mow the lawnwhy, he made us do all his work! And then he…"

He was an ass, a rude, gross, tactless, gluttonous, lazy ass. But he was an honest and unselfish ass. And I loved him.

Listening to the spirits complain half-heartedly, I walked into his room, to find him sleeping on his back, tangled in his sheets, the morning light drenching him. His raven-wing's halo was spread over the pillow, clear off his broad forehead and thick eyebrows, brows which were blessedly not drawn together like they usually were in his forever frown—something that stayed in all his waking hours. His bronze skin slid over the rock-hard, rippling muscles and his lean and tall frame. His sensuous lips were open, letting his saliva trickle down his chin and pool on his pillow. His hand was in his shorts, the other was scratching his arse. And his legs were not even worth mentioning. The only thing that wasn't gross about him was the fact he didn't snore.

He had been accused, but I didn't believe it. He was the one who'd been like a son to my mother. He was the one who'd hoisted atop the swinging gate and pushed the pedal, he was the one who'd run with me as we escaped my angry mother. It couldn't be him. But he had been accused.

"Princess, think of the words Cross said before you had left," Rorik whispered into my ear, and I gulped. Cross wasn't the one to break his word, or forget it. That guy feigned grammatical ignorance, but the bastard sure knew how to put words together while making a threat.

Nothing in the world could scare me, but just remembering his words sent spells of fear and waves of excitement, tinged with salaciousness, down my spine, raising bumps on my skin. He'd beat me up, then tie me down, followed by a round of kissing me senseless, and thenI turned to Idinari. "Should I?"

She nodded, then sighed sadly. "It's the only way to prove his innocence." Obviously, she didn't know of the parting shot Cross had aimed at me.

I nodded, then pushed his shirt up, laying a hand on his stomach. It was as hard as I remembered, and I recalled the times when my hands had run over those hardened muscles, revelling and exciting in their feel against my palm.

I pushed aside some more memories and chanted, transforming him.

The skin furthest from his belly-button, near his chest, turned to scales, a deep blue found in the heart of the sea. They were a deep colour, but the little glowing ball pulsed fiercely and showed clearly through his scales.

The scales appeared in a spiral path, coiling slowly towards his belly button. Suddenly, I felt a hard gaze burning into my back.

I raised my head and gazed into twin topazes, the glitter in them as brilliant as the sun and as hard as diamonds. They slowly ran over my face again and again, lingering at my blue-grey eyes and lips, more so on the lips, making me blush. Those eyes then took in my body slowly, raising goosebumps on every inch of skin under their scrutiny. He looked back just as slowly, finally meeting my eyes. His sensuous lips curled upwards—it really couldn't be called a smile—in realisation, first in surprise, then sadistically—then curled into a smile showing his barely concealed thirst for me. He opened his mouth—

My heart thundered in my chest.

—and yawned, wetting his mouth by opening and closing it many times, grinning and enjoying my obvious tension.

"Hello, Princess," he said, and reached out for me.

As that hand neared my face, only one thought went through me—

I'm screwed.

A/N: A-ha! I found you, reader from France! Sorry, I was going through the traffic stats for this story, and I was really surprised-and happy-to see the different kinds of people who'd read the story. Give me a heads up, guys, and tell me what you think about it! And, reader from France, I'd like to know who you are, so if you read this again, do drop a message. Thanks, guys!

And people, I'm not gonna kill you if you tell me what's wrong with the story-I really need to know that. So, do let me know.