Disclaimer: They are not mine.

Rating: T

Author's Notes: Also written in extreme haste. Also posted for Ewige and also has the pairing reveal on the next page. Why this one stumped anyone is beyond me still...


She cuts her meat into tiny slices. It's ritual, he has come to understand, minor exertion of control. She accepts only what she needs to survive, fulfilling her end of their tainted bargain to the letter: surviving, yet refusing to thrive.

He should have let her go. To have the thing he once craved beyond reason, sitting right beside him, and yet feel unprivileged to touch...

His house is filled with silence. Only with guests is there laughter, discussion, in his home. Her mind is rife with science, philosophy, intelligence, and he is denied access to all of it. She doesn't speak. Not when they are alone.

"I regret it." He has told her how many people have heard these words from him; she is well aware of the concession. Still, there is blue resistance in her silent stare. He lifts a testing hand to palm her white cheek. She never moves but her revulsion is open, and his ungloved fist clenches air into dust instead.

Once, she had not minded his touch. The abhorrence razing his flesh had mingled harmoniously with a dark desire he understood full well. Together, they had been destined to soar. He'd never questioned it. Now she is grounded, hidden away where precious few of his colleagues can appreciate what he has worked so hard to restore, and he is hobbled, the weight of what he owes her a chain tethering him to earth even when he leaves to patrol the expanding borders.

She is still physically desirable to most blue-blooded men of his kind, and conducts herself charmingly with his high-ranking guests. She allows herself to be engaged in conversation, absorbs insults, demurring at compliments, and keeps her painted mouth shut otherwise. Moons ago, he would never have guessed her capable of such restraint. Perhaps, before, she had not been.

It wasn't meant to be this way. He still hears the screams of her crew pounding against the unyielding bars. They echo in his memories, dark music for the viscous ruby pools seeping into the deckplates of his prized ship, spilled at the guttural commands of hardened soldiers, and always punctuated by the hiss. That sickening, singular hiss of a substance so potent it ate through its yielder's impregnable gloves upon release - oh and the bitter flavor of his own rage. Ever after, that flavor scarcely seems far from his tongue, no matter that he tries to wash it away with barrels of wine or success. Nothing helps. It lingers, that flavor: rage, and something unidentifiable, if not precisely intangible.

She awoke heavily bandaged. He was there. Setting aside that flavor, he assured her that he'd personally seen her ship and crew released, unharmed.

"They're free," he'd whispered.

Her blue eyes stabbed at him from a medical cot. "All of them?"

"All but one." One had expired in the time it had taken him to save her. The others had remained safe, behind the bars. He rushed on to assure her the scarring didn't matter to him, vowing to find physicians skilled enough to repair her appearance, only as he blabbered, planned, and coaxed her to accept his genuine remorse, a darkness spread through her until the speech died within him. She stared at him in silence until he thought he might go mad. Finally, she offered, "There's a legend among my people."

She told some maddeningly inapplicable fable about an untrustworthy boy torn apart by something called wolves. Thereafter, whenever he apologized, she kept telling it, until he finally threatened a slave's hide against her either revealing what she meant by the tale or else stopped repeating it. She opted for the latter, and he almost beat the cowering slave anyway in ire at his own poor choice of wording. She has not spoken to him since.

She cuts her meat into small, even slices. They eat in synchronized motions, and the roast tastes of the rage he had dined upon the day he'd found her, scarred, in pools of her own man's blood, both she and him near death. He'd had to choose.

His responsibility, all. He should never have left her in general holding. He'd underestimated his lieutenant's resentment, the pervasive hunger in his men. He had known his people lacked the ability to couple violence and beauty the way hers did. One was usually sacrificed for the other.

He'd believed things would be different once they'd finally restored her face to very near its original pristine structure. He'd thought her fire would return. She cuts her meat into delicate slices, and they both know it is his hearts that she is chewing between her enameled, carnivorous teeth.

Some nights, when he is neither drunk enough to forget nor sober enough to properly remember, he steps into her path, always with the same burning demand. "How long will he stand between us?"

It's the only time a flare of her former self shows, when he lets his torment be known. Otherwise, she is a shell of the creature he'd craved. The fire no longer exists. She never speaks.

Tonight, emboldened by his guests, he stares at her, the lines of her face, smooth white arcs and plains. Opaque marble and translucent milk. They represent villas he quietly sold to finish the reconstruction of those lines. It's almost right.

He should have let her go. He will let her go. Perhaps next week, after he has given her the new piece of music he has found. She will like it.

His comrades engage her in boisterous discussion, and he smiles a glass smile. When he reaches for the third helping of wine, she meets his hungry gaze over the delicate lip of alloy. She reads his intent, and he knows only in the shadows between sobriety and drunkenness that she uses this arrangement as a means of alleviating her own guilt as much as to torment him.

Tonight, he will let her keep the lie. Next week, perhaps, it will be different.


(Pairing: J/Kashyk)