okay. so i rewrote the story My Forced Mating. and it turned into a whole new animal? i mean, the general plotline remains the same, so if you read that atrocity recently or if you recall reading it, there won't be too many surprises waiting for you here. i do want to mention that this story has mentions of self-harm and suicide. so if those are an issue for you, either tread lightly or avoid altogether.

and, i know i should be posting a new chapter of Shades because it's been ages. but you know how sometimes you close a book before the conclusion because you simply don't want it to end? it's sort of like that. ...it's not you, but me, but i promise i won't leave it hanging forever.

as always, i hope you enjoy.

wednesday, 21 may, 2014.

Water frothed, turning bloody, the line cutting my hands like it has so many times before; this time, there was no one to take the slack behind me, no one to facilitate the kill. My back ached as I hauled in the line, making me curse as it slipped because of my blood and water, arm going numb where the line circled to my elbow.

The water was gory when the line finally slacked, my teeth set into a grimace as I pulled in the seal caught at the end of my harpoon, its weight heavier than its mass because of what this means, what it means for me. The boat nearly capsized in my efforts to pull the animal on board, its blood coating me from chest to feet and awakening a vague remembrance of all the times I'd taken part of group kills in the past. Before, the work had been hard but necessary, the result a surge in exhilaration and pride.

I used to think becoming a man would carry more of the same, but now that I'm staring this seal in the face, its eyes blank and lifeblood everywhere…I felt nothing but fear and sharp sorrow. And although I am now a man, I let the sobs come as they would, deep-wrenching breaths as I grieved the loss of my childhood, drifting alone out at sea.

Drums pounded my heartbeat into a frenzy, women blowing into shells to produce a guttural tone that exalted me beyond my nervous fears and guilt for the private display the day before. I was waiting for the cue to lead the dancing; it used to elude me, when I was young, how people knew the right moment, one beat sounding the same as the next, until the day I suddenly just knew.

It comes from within, and it's different for every dance; the cue cannot be learned. Cannot be memorized.

My body moved before I knew it, tensing a heartbeat before the cue, a cry searing up from my belly and through my chest as I launched myself into the dance. Identical cries sounded as others followed my lead, the ceremonial ring soon full of people weaving to an intricate dance we've danced since before the stories can recall.

Hands touched me as I danced, brief presses to capture some of my luck, and I laughed; that used to be me, touching new men or women to get luck in my own endeavor to join my majority. Before, when it'd just been sport, but then, when I grew more desperate, touching more often than anyone, until I saw how everyone began to look at me, their eyes forbidding me to touch because everyone believed me to be unlucky.

No one wanted my bad luck; it took me two seasons to make my first unassisted kill at sea, to complete the rite to adulthood for my people. Longer than anyone.

Guess my bad luck is over.

During one of the times I sat to let myself catch my breath, people still went out of their way to touch me, their catcalls playful as everyone took advantage until I laughed and finally batted them away. Someone put in one last tousle to my hair, the strands obscuring my eyes to the congenial laughter of those around me.

Shaking my long hair back into place, I caught the eye of a man set somewhat apart from the others; a man always set apart. His face was blank but his stare direct, my spine crawling the longer he stared until he finally gave a slight nod, a mark of approval that made me look away as my face grew hot.

Lus always made me feel strange, and not just because everyone thinks he's odd. In a tight-knit community like ours, anyone who routinely skips ceremonies or gatherings is seen as weird; if everyone was sick, he'd be the last person Lanrian would visit with treatment.

"Ayan! Dance!"

Janil thrust her hand in my face and I gratefully took it, allowing her to pull me up and back into the throng of bodies, forgetting my worries, forgetting everything, lost in the dance and the droning of the shells and drums.

The morning following my ceremony dawned cold, wind sweeping in from the sea and whipping my hair, but it didn't keep me from seeing the ashen expression of my father as he talked with one of the tribal elders, her face more serious than I've ever seen. I stared, spirit sinking as they talked, my father growing contemptuously angry yet resigned, his eyes finding me and quickly turning away.

Unable to stomach what they might be discussing, I left to find the other young men to help repair nets damaged in our last run for the silver-bellied fish that is the primary staple of our diet this time of year. My presence was met with loud calls and ribbing, jokes friendlier at my expense than they'd been before I finished my rite; I was truly one of them now, my status their equal.

Beyond their teasing, their talk turned to what seemed to always be on the mind of men my age: women. I tried to take part in the talk like the rest, vague responses to which of the unattached women I might wish to court and claim as mate, though my heart wasn't in it.

"Ayan! You aren't going to put moves on my woman, are you?"

The others laughed as the second-eldest son of the leader asked me his dead-serious question, his eyes narrowing when I quickly shook my head.

"Why not? You saying Ree isn't good enough?"

Because of his tone, his subsequent grin caught me off-guard, allowing me to smile a bit; "Like she'd look twice my way when there are catches like you? She's stringing those nets for you, my friend. You're caught, and you don't even know it."

He grinned, expression saying he was pleased enough to be caught, and teasing passed from me to him, though he took it with grace. Still, someone took the time to point out that despite my low standing, many of the women who had touched me while dancing had done it for more than good luck.

Like I hadn't known?

It hurt my stomach just to think of it, to think of having to choose any of those women to claim as my mate. Even someone as low in status as me was expected to do their best to claim a mate of good status, someone with strong standing and the expectation of starting a family as soon as possible.

How was anyone supposed to understand that the thought of being with a woman, of taking her into my bedding, made my spirit battle my stomach and head until I thought of nothing but taking a boat to sea, my body slipping over into the water to sink beyond the point of such cares.

At the moment, it sounded almost peaceful.

My father was unusually quiet when I returned to our home to prepare the evening meal, his spirit causing the air to feel heavy along my skin as I worked, until I finally spoke up, stomach clenching because before my rite, I would not have had the place to do so.

"Father, I saw you speaking with Ina."

His breath escaped in a sigh; "She spoke with me, yes."

I shifted, wanting so badly to demand an answer, but even as a man, I had no place to show such blatant disrespect.

Finally, I asked; "Father?"

His hand rubbed his face; "She told me that a claim was made on you for nearly two cycles."

I stopped, not sure of the implications. A claim typically comes from a man, in regard to the woman he wished to take as his mate, while a request comes from the woman making her wishes known through the mate of her mother. My father is never one to mince words or speak before weighing the impact; if he says I am claimed, then he can only mean I've been claimed by a man.

My spirit shot to my throat and then back down again, my tongue dry as I forced myself to ask; "Who?"

His mouth twisted a bit, some kind of irony to his tone as he said, "Lus."

Yes, yes I could see the irony in that.

Lus' mother was once mated to the present leader, though they later parted on amiable terms and he mated again, the woman bearing him two sons; while they removed Lus from the line of possible tribal leader candidates, I'd be hard-pressed to gain a mate of higher status. Regardless, as a person…I doubt I could gain a mate worse than Lus.

Though I tried to hide my tears of angry disappointment, he must have seen them, his voice uncharacteristically gentle as he stated, "He was apparently very adamant that he have claim on you. You know his standing, Ayan…to refuse him…."

I frowned, tears falling faster, and he became gentler than I have ever heard him before; "Perhaps he will forgive you for seeking a woman's embrace outside of his own. A man, in his situation, can't fault you that. No man could fault you for finding natural release elsewhere."

"I don't want natural release."

My anger, my bitterness for the situation being forced upon me, allowed me to be honest where I would rather have died before.

The color left his face as he understood my meaning, thoughts racing in his mind until he finally asked, "Your urges are backward?"

I gave the tiniest nod of acquiescence, prepared for the hint of disgust in his eyes but not prepared for the death of my spirit upon seeing it, knowing the shame he must feel because of me. I wanted to break as I had out on the water, but to show such childish displays of emotion would only shame him further.

Thus, I swallowed my tears, voice husky as I said, "I apologize, Father, for my insolence. I will not bring further shame upon you by refusing his claim."

"So you do accept?" he pressed, carefully unemotional.

I nodded, and he sighed, hesitating a moment before pushing himself up to his feet, past pain in his left knee causing his movements to slow.

Before he left, his fingers ghosted the crown of my head; "You bring me no shame."

I finished preparing the meal with heavy thoughts, Father returning in silence. Silence remained as we ate, and when we hunkered down for sleep. I lay awake long into the night, watching the banked coals of our fire wink in the darkness.

Dawn found me awake earlier than normal, and I dressed with numb fingers and slipped from my home. People were slow to perform morning chores, so I saw only a few as I made my way through the village and closer to shore, my feet carrying me to a place I used to call my own when I was young.

Since then, the outcrop of rocks overlooking pounding surf has become more popular, people coming out to commune with their spirit, or to perform their intricate courting rituals that had always eluded me before.

Women have always looked at me, I know, but mostly because of my older brother.

Yu is one of those men people find impossible to not like, his laughter contagious and his jokes enough to make the gravest of elders crack a smile. If I had been any of the other young men, I could have had my way with nearly any of the unattached women or girls, sex an act often experimented with while young so by the time of their mating, a person knows what they like and with who.

I know my limits, know I'm awkward and nowhere near as handsome as Yu, nowhere near as personable, but because of him, women would have given me more than enough of their time had I but asked.

Thinking of courting, of wooing a partner into accepting my claim, had always made my spirit battle my insides to the point of sickness. Thinking of courting Lus, or rather, Lus courting me, made me feel even worse. I had often entertained the idea of courting a man, late at night after Father was asleep, and the guilty rush of feelings that would overtake me in those moments made my situation now even worse.

I could have been happy with anyone but Lus.

Part of me wanted to rise to my feet, to leap from the rocks to the surf below, allow the spirits of water to take me far from land and to the next plane. It'd be so easy. But by accepting Lus' claim, only to immediately throw myself to sea, I would force him to follow or suffer a shame deeper than anything else I might do.

Lus might frighten me, but he didn't deserve to suffer death from the likes of me.

Steps interrupted my looping chain of thoughts of shame and death and regret, and I found myself turning to see the interloper even as I realized I knew who it must be. Lus stilled at my look, his normally blank face replaced with an expression I couldn't quite read. I turned away again, knowing the disrespect but unable to bring myself to properly greet my future mate.

Steps came closer all the same, though they stopped a suitable distance behind me; "You accepted my claim."

I shrugged one shoulder, words stuck in my chest, a bitterness filling my mouth as I forced it to stay shut.

"I…I specifically asked them to give you the choice."

The doubt in his voice made me laugh, my eyes far out to sea; "Like I have a choice. I accept you, Lus."

His silence was dark, and I wondered if maybe he'd change his mind, until he said stiffly, "I welcome the honor my future mate will bring to me, and swear on my spirit to honor and provide for him in turn. Thank you, Ayan."

I listened to him walk away, my emotions charred. The oath was old, part of the ritual we'd be partaking soon enough; if I didn't know any better, I'd wager he meant every single word.

Janil was the first to find me after word spread of the upcoming ceremony between Lus and myself, her eyes full of fearful confusion. And maybe something I'd always tried to not see.

"Ayan? Tell me it's not true."

I sighed; "That, I cannot do."

Her confusion sharpened, pain obvious, and I never wanted to have this conversation.

Not with her. Not with anyone.

"I'm sorry, Janil. But even without Lus' claim, I would not have been capable of courting you."

Her breath caught, tears already drawn up in her eyes, and my spirit fought beneath my ribs, hurting me for hurting her. For as long as Janil has been special to me, talk flowed freely on the chances of our mating, winks and whispers, encouraging nods from elders and friends.

I knew she would press, someday, but I had hoped to have more time.

"Your urges are backward."

Her voice was thick with unshed tears, but not as surprised as I would have thought. I nodded, awkward to be again discussing something I had hoped to hide for the rest of my life.

"I always thought, maybe…. The things people would insinuate that you never even tried…."

She sighed, tone wavering, and wiped a hand over her eyes.

After a moment, calmer, she said, "At least one of us gets what we want."

Laughter bubbled up, hard and full of bitterness; "I don't want this."

"I don't-"

"Lus, Janil. How could I possibly find contentment with a mate such as that."

"He's not so bad…."

At my look, she gave up, nodding with a faint wince, her hand reaching out for mine with a strength I had always loved in her.

"Ayan…. I know I can't understand how you feel, but Lus is…he isn't cruel. I have seen cruel men, and I have seen them scorned by him, their standing irreparably damaged because of his words. I don't think he will be cruel to you."

And really, that was the best someone could hope for in a less-than-happy mating. It wasn't usual, for people to be mated without perfect agreement on both sides, but sometimes it was necessary. Sometimes, it just couldn't be helped. I always thought I'd end up in a mating like that, but I never thought it would be with a man.

Guess I'm just cursed with bad luck.

The last night with my father, both of us felt the weight of our shared meal. In a way, I felt somewhat sorry for him, that he would now spend his nights alone. Cook and eat alone. After my brother Yu left to set up a household with his mate, Father became somewhat more subdued, and I could only imagine he felt more of the same with my leaving.

Not that I felt he'd mind my absence, overmuch, as I know I remind him more of my mother the older I become.

Elders often remark on my likeness of her, my features much darker than Father or Yu and my spirit so closely related to hers. When I was young, I used to hear whispers on her death at my birthing, how terrible it was, the bad luck that could surround me through life. After I had trouble completing my rite, I'd heard those whispers again, my mother's death a cloud I can never outlive.

Perhaps that was why Father favored my brother over me, unable to forget the bitterness of my birth and the pain he most likely still feels.

"She knew you would be the death of her."

Father's sudden announcement startled me, the blade I was sharpening cutting into the flesh of my palm; although the pain was fierce, I didn't overtly wince, smearing the blood with saliva to stanch the flow and continuing with my task as if the wound had never happened. Father didn't appear to notice, at any rate, his tone absent as he continued on a topic so closely related to my own thoughts it was as though he plucked them straight from my mind.

"Your brother was a hard birthing…very hard. Lanrian told her another would most likely claim her completely. But she loved our son, and when she discovered she was again with child…nothing I said could make her change her mind. Against my wishes, she carried you, birthed you, and died without ever setting eyes upon the child she loved more than her own life."

That ancient pain tightened his voice with uncharacteristic emotion, his breath labored as he attempted to regain control.

Finally, he laughed humorlessly; "I used to resent such devotion, that she would risk her own life to birth you. Used to think it meant she loved you, the child she would never know, more than she loved me, and I'm sorry, Ayan. I feel shame every day for that."

I felt my face heating up though my body felt carved from stone, unable to move beyond needing to breathe.

"I know now it's because she loved me too much. You are her gift, Ayan. And maybe…maybe you are backward because of her spirit."

I looked at him then, seeing doubt and uncertainty, but I had a feeling that maybe he was right. Only the spirit leader of our tribe has any definite knowledge about the planes beyond our own, about how spirits protect or harm us on this one, but Father's tentative explanation for my backward urges made some bit of sense to me.

Although, it did beg the question with Lus: his mother still lives, so whose spirit could have entered him to make him so backward?

Perhaps we were touched by a malevolent spirit while young, before our spirits chose us for protection. A person's spirit is typically made known sometime before their fourth cycle of seasons; it's often said that that until an individual spirit has chosen to protect a child, their parents' spirits do what they can. Lus' parents separated while he was still quite young; perhaps his mother's spirit was not strong enough to fight for both of them.

My fingers found one of the scars on my upper arm, the lines resembling feathers to represent the bird spirit that is my own, the heron. My mother's was a swan, a bird of amazing beauty and fierce temperament, especially when protecting their young. Correlation of spirits between parent and offspring is somewhat rare, though not unheard of; another oddity invariably whispered about me anytime my mother was mentioned.

My thoughts remained heavy with the questions of spirits, and my mother; anything to distract me from the drastic changes to my life still to come.

Despite myself, as my father's snores rent the quietness of our dwelling, I found myself imagining what it might be like, being mated to a man. Probably no different than for anyone else. Except…well, except for the sex.

I shifted in my bedding, that warm, crawling sensation already in my groin, not helped by mental flashes of myself touching another man, of feeling his heat as he presses me down and…. I shuddered, holding in a low gasp at the flood of arousal coursing through me, my cock stiffening against my belly.

All it took were a few squeezing touches to have me fully hard and leaking, sweat cropping up all over my body as I fought against making any sound. As an experiment, I thought of Lus, of what he might look like aroused like me, and while some of my thrill dimmed, I was taken back by how much I…liked it.

Even while mated to someone so off-putting, I guess I'd finally understand what everyone enjoyed so much about sex.

The morning of my mating dawned colder than ever, my body shivering as I pulled on layers before heading outside. Despite everything, there were still the daily chores to see to, and I did them as though lost in fog until the sun rose high enough to burn off the chill.

"Ayan, it's time."

My father's voice was brusque as he dismissed me from my task, and I nodded and left him to finish up as I walked toward the dwelling of our spiritual leader, catching Lus just as he was leaving. I blushed at his passing stare, unable to voice a greeting even as he clasped his hands together in respect and then was gone.

I had to take several deep breaths before ducking inside the dwelling, Juno greeting me by informing me I was late. I knelt and bowed low, apologizing, and he waved it off with amused impatience, quick to launch into a detailed description of the things I must do to purify myself for the ritual.

While the ritual itself was a physical union of our lives, a merging of our household, its significance came more from the spiritual aspect. The ceremony was for acquainting our spirits so that they realize we are mated; therefore, not a threat. Apparently, it was fortuitous that our spirits were relatively at ease with the other, with Lus being a sea turtle and myself a bird of water; disaster would be if one of us were, say, a panther or other land predator.

After he exhausted his instruction, I was dismissed to begin purification; most of which involved finding a spot near sea and sand to be alone and scrub every inch of myself to the brink of rawness, all while chanting various prayers to the spirits overseeing the ceremony.

As dusk grew closer, I began the painstaking task of drawing clay markings upon my new skin, the clay drying hard and causing me to itch nearly everywhere.

I returned before dark, already hearing ritual drums and the murmurs of my assembled tribe. The mood of the group was different than would be for a typical mating, more whispering and awkward glances than if one of us had been a woman.

Someone had prepared a woven wrap special for this ritual, working tirelessly on a design that differed from the norm; typically, a male's wrap barely covered their genitalia, while a woman's flowed down to just above the ankle, both incorporating designs of the sea woven in intricate patterns. Mine was plain due to the quickness of my mating, and reached down to my knees; not male, and not female.

Being younger, I was naturally 'subservient', expected to fulfill more of the woman's duties than a man's. However, as I am a man, slight differences were made to the ritual so that my spirit would not become angry and battle for overt dominance.

My head spun trying to keep it all straight, until I chose to focus more on fulfilling my part in the ceremony and nothing more.

I had no other choice.

The beat of the drums grew faster as Lus and I walked through the crowd until before Juno, where we knelt on the dying beat and the crowd grew silent. My spirit fluttered beneath my ribs, pounding up the beat from the now-quiet drums, and I focused on breathing so I wouldn't black out. My position and posture was that of a female, head slightly bowed and my hands resting palm-up on my upper thighs; looking down, I could see the way Lus' fingers were tight against his knees, a display of nerves I would never have thought to see from him.

The ceremony began with Juno making a speech appealing to the spirits, asking for their favor in our mating, and I didn't move even as my feet began to go numb from the stiff kneeling-position. It was afterward, when Juno addressed us directly, that my hands moved down to my knees, copying Lus' forceful gesture, my chin rising so I could stare straight ahead with quiet dignity.

My voice was even as I voiced my acceptance of Lus' spirit, my acceptance of him as my mate, and he repeated the line he'd given me earlier.

"I welcome the honor my future mate will bring to me, and swear on my spirit to honor and provide for him in turn."

Then, there was nothing left but for the symbol of our mating to be drawn in clay on our chests, a pre-designed smudging of our spirit marks blended into something new. For practicality purposes, we were required to coexist apart from the tribe for half a turn of the moon; the time apart allowed us time to settle into our new household, to truly get to know our mate and see if we were capable of living together. If at any time during our time apart, we could sever the bond without further ceremony; otherwise, the symbol would be cut into our flesh to finalize the ritual upon the completion of our seclusion.

The usual level of noise returned as our ceremony finished, and though other ceremonies were to follow ours because of the luck known to follow such events, we were required to retire to our dwelling for the night. To interact with others while our spirits were so vulnerable could cause significant harm upon us.

Lus had inherited his dwelling upon the passing of his mother, so his place within was already well-established. A spot had been cleared across from his sleeping quarters for me, my things heaped together in a sterile pile nearby, and my first task was to begin sorting them out so I wouldn't have to find words to fill the otherwise awkward silence.

If the silence bothered him, he didn't show it, watching me work after he built up the fire to gather some light and warmth in the domed dwelling.

After a time, he slipped out and allowed me a bit of time to breathe, spots dancing before my eyes until I leaned forward and focused on deep, even pulls into my chest.

The sloshing of water startled me, his face mildly apologetic even as he cautiously approached with a tightly-woven reed basket full of water. When I made no move to take it, he patiently got his hand wet and began smoothing the dried clay from my skin, easing the still-stinging itch that had plagued me since I'd applied them earlier. My face burned, but I allowed him to continue, unsure of the propriety of such action but knowing to stop him would probably be worse.

He hesitated once he was finished, somewhat expectant, but I looked down and then scampered away, moving to the stores of food to take stock and see for filling the ravenous hole deep in my gut. I heard the delayed sloshing of water as he removed his own clay markings, and I burned with shame, second-guessing my fear and subsequent reaction.

Caught in a loop of self-disgust and unease as I worked, I sliced into a finger deep enough to expose several layers of muscle, my gasp one of shock but quickly suppressed. As suddenly as it'd happened I moved on, favoring the finger but not giving it further attention, not until I was startled by a hand presenting me with an absorbent scrap of soft leather.

When all I did was stare blankly after my initial flinch at his nearness, Lus unemotionally took hold of my hand and pressed the swatch against the still bleeding wound, my hand easily cradled within his rough palm as he applied light pressure to stanch the flow.

Stunned, I could only sit there and allow his attention; nobody had ever done so for me before, excepting the time Lanrian packed snow over my chest where I'd splashed oil on myself as a child.

Once Lus was satisfied the wound had stopped bleeding, he took over the task of cooking, silent as he worked and ignoring my obvious stare. I sat there, my entire hand now aching, and wondered how I could ever have found contentment with this, this un-happy mating. Even Father talked more than my mate, and he was never one to throw his words around lightly.

After our meal, there was little else to do but attend to our sleep; Lus moved too close and I again flinched, illogically frightened that he would suddenly now change, becoming rough and domineering in throwing me down for his pleasure and his alone.

His expression became hard, mouth pressed in a line as he banked the coals in the fire with the blackened stick lying nearby.


Ashamed, I crawled into bed as quickly as possible, hearing him doing the same on the other side. My thoughts swirled around my head, spirit surging and ebbing so often my body began to ache all over, throat tight with unshed tears until I rolled onto my side, glaring into the dark and forcing myself into sleep.


Hands touching, grabbing.

Tearing my hair and pushing me down, down into darkness. Down so low I heard people crying, keening the song of loss, my voice too faint to be heard over the manic cry.


Vines whipping skin and winding tight around my flesh.

Can't breathe.



I'm going to die!

I woke up choking, limbs flailing against a creature attacking me in the dark, until hands smoothed against my face and a low, soothing 'hush' flit against my mouth. Tears streaked my face and still the hands were gentle, pulling me from the throes of a nightmare by grounding me in their touch.

Another 'hush' pressed against my mouth and I fell forward, kissing those lips and taking their comfort as they kissed back. The kisses were sweet, non-sexual in nature, and I felt myself calm until still.

I regretted the loss of the kisses once he finally pulled back, but accepted the hand that smoothed my hair even as I slipped back into sleep.

The sound of popping and fire woke me the next morning, my stomach giving a loud growl even as I rubbed the thick gum that had collected in my eyes during the night. Frowning sleepily, I stared at the person bent near the fire, gulls eggs popping as they cooked on the heated rock in the coals. My stomach growled again and he looked over, eyes carefully blank as he took in my disheveled morning state.

It was only once he turned back to his task that I realized my cock was bent up because of my bladder, hard as stone and obvious beneath my covering. It was only natural, something I've dealt with since puberty, but for the first time, I was deeply embarrassed that he'd seen me like this.

Face and chest red, I crawled from my bed and into relatively respectable clothing, moving from the dwelling to empty my bladder and attempt to cool down.

It was only on the walk back that I remembered the night, the dream that had had me fighting him.

I kissed him.

I kissed him and he let me, didn't do more than comfort me in the dark. And I should have felt grateful, but was surprised to find myself instead bemused and somewhat let down. We were mated; he had the right to press advantage.

When I returned to our dwelling, I found the eggs were done and portioned in two, sparsely seasoned with a few bits of salt from the sea in his personal stores. Our stores now, I suppose. I hadn't recalled seeing the eggs the night before, and reasoned that he must have woken early to trawl the cliffs nearby for nests while I slept.

Such chores typically fell to young ones, the ones old enough to climb the rocks but not old enough to handle hunting large game. I doubt I'd had gulls eggs since before my brother's mating.

After we ate, I wordlessly offered to clean but he shouldered me aside, taking care of the mess before leaving our home completely. I watched him go, watched him walk away from the village and into the woods, obviously wishing to be alone.

Hurt, I left as well, heading the opposite direction to the shore; avoiding the more well-traveled path, I managed not to encounter anyone on my way to the water.

I found the rocks he must have climbed early this morning and stood there a few moments, half-able to see him up there and wishing things were different. If I happened along while he was here, would he answer if I called up for him to come down? Or would I watch him instead, hoping he'd make it back down but fearing maybe he wouldn't.

My spirit provided a mental image of Lus falling, the sand swallowing his cry even as I stood nearby and did nothing.

Shuddering at the coldness within, I head out further along the beach until I found one of the points where we store boats; struggling from the weight, I eventually managed to flip one over and push myself out to sea.

I stroked out until land was a vague shape on the horizon; on a normal fishing expedition, we often travel out past the sight of land. But never alone. Still, I felt calmer once out on the water, more like myself and less like the exhausted shell I've become.

I stayed out until thirst drove me in, the sun heating up my skin and making me feel golden.

Walking back through the village, seeing people purposely avert their eyes and take different paths so as not to damage my spirit, awakened a loneliness I hadn't felt until then. I wanted to find Janil and get her to climb up into the trees with me, or to be assigned back-aching chores with the other young men, our tasks heavy but not seeming so as we laughed and talked our burdens away. I wanted to sing with the elders, and listen to their stories, wanted to teach younger ones how to tie a proper knot or flint a new knife.

How do people withstand isolation such as this?

Ducking back into our dwelling, I was so hungry for interaction that I was prepared to badger Lus until he talked back, but he had yet to return. Sighing, I riffled through my things until I found a half-finished weaving project, a bowl that would be water-tight by the time I was done, symbolic birds lining its sides in honor of my spirit.

The weaving was tedious but calming in its own way, even without the human interaction that always made such tasks pass more quickly.

I made a stew once I grew hungry, spirit sinking the longer it took for Lus to return until I finally just went to bed alone, lying awake until I heard him come in, his movements soft so as not to disturb me.

Listening to him eat what I'd left for him, hearing him bank the coals of the fire and disrobe…I never felt more alone.

"Are you thirsty? May I fetch you more water? Or make you some tea?"

He grunted at my request, fingers using a sharp tool to drill holes in a flat shell he'd collected sometime from the beach. My attempt to compliment his past handiwork had been met with absent dismissal, my comments on the affect of the breeze from the sea gaining me barely a nod.

My spirit felt thin, the breath in my chest brittle, and where the courage came from, I could not say, but I slowly moved close enough to put my hand on his arm, trying to initiate a courting dance I'd seen work for so many others before.

He moved from my touch, half-turning away, and everything soured inside.

"If you don't want me, we should sever our bond."

He frowned, first at his hands and then over at me, thunderous expression growing darker at whatever he saw in my face.

"Go ahead, if you want to. Sever it."

His voice was bitter, almost challenging, and I had to swallow hard.

"You don't want me?"

He snorted, angrily jabbing the shell until he finally placed it aside before he could ruin it; "It is not a question of want if you fear me."

"I don't fear you."

How could he think that, when I've done nothing but ask for his attention all day?

"Have you thought about death today?"

The change in topic threw me; "What?"

It took force for him to bring himself to say; "Have you thought about killing yourself today."

"I don't-"

"You think I never knew? I watched you, Ayan, I've watched you for a long time. Your desires are so plain, and I thought…. So stupid, to think that maybe you'd want me more than you'd want death."

Anger surged hot, my spirit rising up and making me spark; "You speak of my wanting you, of my wishing to die, as though they are one and the same! You don't know me! My thoughts…they were my own. You are so selfish, you push me away when I'm wanting you and then call me the coward."

"You fear me! I get too close and you flinch like I am diseased!"

I laughed, the humor choked into something more honest; "I kissed you, Lus, because I don't fear you."

Heat came to his face at that, tone more unsure as he repeated; "You are afraid."

I smiled, lopsided and more than a bit shy; "I am not afraid. I am untouched."

He looked at me, an open longing there that almost made me bolt from its intensity, but I took a deep breath and touched his arm again, lingering in this courting ritual between us.

Slow, as though afraid I'd cry out, he touched me as well, his hand tentative as he found the raised lines of my spirit scars.

"I am untouched," I repeated, soft and belonging to him, and somehow he understood.

Maybe he does know me, watched me for so long that he knows me nearly as well as myself. I blushed at his kiss, remembering the time in the dark, and while these kisses were still sweet, they were hungrier than they'd been before.


He parted my mouth before kissing me deep, my spirit thrumming me all over as I moaned. The sound made him pull back with a smile, my mind cataloguing the fact of his face showing real emotion for once, my arousal quickening to know it was because of me.

He stared at me, content, until I finally asked him why.

"Just…never thought I'd get to see you like this."


If my insult bothered him, he didn't show it, kissing me again even as I spilled myself closer, clinging inappropriately and glad he enjoyed having me do it. It was my turn to make him moan when I kissed his neck, finding his pulse and nipping it gently.

"You are not untouched," he teased, and I breathed a laugh against his skin.

"Untouched, but not without imagination."

The timbre of his laugh thrilled me, allowing me to lead him as I crawled to his bed because it was closest. I lay back and loved how he followed, his weight comfortable above me as he kissed me once more.

My hands touched of their own volition, no longer cautious about anything I might want; somehow I knew that whatever I wanted, he wanted the same.

I groaned the first time he touched me, his hand on my cock as he propped up his weight on one arm and one knee. He went to disrobe me further but I shook my head, pulling him into a kiss even as my hand joined his on my cock, stroking together.

When he abruptly sat up, I let him, watching as he freed his own arousal, the hood pulled back as he dripped clear liquid. I smiled, pulling him back into place so I could put my hand down where I wanted.

His groan at my touch was guttural, reaching a place deep down inside I had suspected would always remain empty.

We stroked together, learning quickly until I felt that familiar sensation of an impending surge in spirit, my hand stuttering as I was soon lost in the moment. His breath touched my ear and I surprised us both with the strength of my orgasm, spasms wracking me from head to foot.

I became aware of his low hisses of pain only when he gently disengaged my grip from his cock, my face flushing even as he chuckled his forgiveness. I took him back into my hand, confident strokes quickly achieving his completion, his eyes lost as he stared at me the entire time.

We were comfortably quiet as we cleaned up our mess and straightened ourselves out; when he returned to working on the shell from before, I sat closer than I would have dared with anyone other than Janil. This time, my comment on the breeze was met with congenial acknowledgement, and when I asked what he planned for the shell, he answered me with a surprising amount of forthcoming.