Chapter 226: Matters of the FrontAlexandra Erin on July 14, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Glory Warms To Mackenzie
Although I had plenty of warning, the kiss was in its own way as unexpected as the situation.
Which is to say that everything about it made perfect sense in retrospect, but I was pretty confused about it at the time.
Glory reached around behind her head and unhooked the veil that covered her lower face from behind one ear. I just stood there and let her come to me, which she did. At least, she must have… because suddenly her face was right in front of mine, although from my point of view it almost seemed like she stood perfectly still and the world carried me towards her, so motionless was her face and so smooth was her gliding stride.
She leaned in. I kept still, closed my eyes. I didn’t know immediately what was expected of me, but the good news was that it was very little, so my initial stunned reaction worked out well.
From conversations with her about relationships… particularly, her sister’s with Nicki… I understood that in Glory’s head, this wasn’t our kiss, it was hers with me. We weren’t kissing each other, it wasn’t a bilateral exchange of affection… she was kissing me. I could kiss her, maybe, if she wanted it, but that wasn’t what we were doing. As Amaranth had said, Glory was going to kiss me.
I didn’t imagine she was looking for a passive response from me, but at the same time, I had to let her make the moves. It wouldn’t work any other way.
With my eyes closed and Glory absolutely silent and still, I could have been standing there alone. I had a stronger awareness of Amaranth, still standing in the doorway, than I did of Glory, who I assumed was right in front of me. I could smell Amaranth, could hear her breath. I didn’t know if Glory wasn’t breathing, or if I just couldn’t hear her.
She’s not breathing, I realized. I know the scent of her breath. Faint, honeyed, only slightly moister than the air… it flows from her when she speaks, and swirls around her when she walks.
My mouth opened a bit as I thought about this, my lips parting only ever so slightly, and apparently that was what she had been waiting for, because then her lips brushed mine.
It was a taunting, tantalizing tease of a kiss, not even a kiss so much as a brief nuzzle… coming out of nowhere and gone just as quickly. This was the famous elven sensuality? Or was it really just supposed to be a friendly peck on the lips? Somehow, I doubted it…
And then she moved in again.
Glory’s lips were cold.
I wasn’t prepared for that. I yelped a little, though the sound was muffled. Her hand on the back of my head, fingers tangling in my hair, took control of me and stopped me from pulling away in surprise.
My lips warmed hers, I’m sure, but that only made mine feel colder. I wondered if mine were unbearably hot to her… maybe if the kiss went on long enough, we’d just both be comfortable. Yeah, that was a nice thought… kissing comfortably.
I was getting comfortable already.
I knew that elves could be kind of chill, literally… Steff was the coolest of my lovers, also literally. She had a good leavening of human blood in her veins, though, and most people had a cooler body temperature than I did, so it didn’t seem like a big deal with her. Her relative coolness was just sort of her signature against my skin.
“What were you thinking about?” Glory asked me when we came apart.
“Who said I was thinking about anything?” I replied as smoothly as I could, sensing in some subtle way that my girlfriend Steff was not the right answer to this question.
“You’re always thinking about something,” she said. “Anyway, it showed on your face.”
“You could see my face?” I asked her. “I closed my eyes.”
“Yes, I saw… these eyes don’t close without a good reason,” she said. “They spent too long in Treehome with me to relax.”
“So, kissing me isn’t a good reason?” I teased lightly.
“Kissing is social,” she said. “I want to see how you react… but don’t change the subject on me. I want to know what you were thinking, when I was kissing you.”
“Your lips were cold,” I said. I had been thinking about that. Even the part about Steff had really been about that… I’d just had a bit of a guilty start about it.
“Yours are hot,” Glory said. “I know humans burn brighter than we do, but I didn’t know how hot you’d be.”
“I’m… not just human,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting that to come through like that… is that what that was?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know you’re interested in the human, not the demon.”
“I’m interested in you,” she said. “You’re human in all the ways I care about, Mackenzie Blaise.”
“I like it when you say my last name,” I said.
“A human convention.”
“Don’t let Hazel hear you say that,” I said.
“That’s a mistake I’ve already made,” she said. “But thank you for the warning all the same.”
At some point probably after the kiss, she’d taken both of my hands in hers, holding the tips of my fingers in a way that was both kind of ginger but firm… like she was staking a small claim on me, but she was doing so quite decisively.
I didn’t mind.
“Finally,” Amaranth said. I looked over at her and realized that Grace was standing with her… was, in fact, slightly in front of her.
“How long were you there?” Glory asked Amaranth. She didn’t exactly blush, but I had the feeling she was slightly embarrassed to have been snuck up on, even accidentally… she must have been really wrapped up in me.
“Not long,” she said. “But long enough to know that you’d spent long enough dancing around doing that before I got here.”
“I’m sorry, my queen,” Grace sputtered. “When she told me what she had for you, I thought she should be shown up immediately.”
“You were quite right,” Glory said. “It was a most timely interruption.”
“But now I think we’re interrupting something that should maybe run its course?” Amaranth said. “If you’d like, I could wait somewhere while you and Mack have a little talk?”
“If you have any news to share…”
“It’s not exactly ‘news’ at this point, and if it has an expiration date, it’s not any time in the next hour,” Amaranth said. “You two have things to figure out.”
“Don’t you want to be here for that?” I asked.
“If you want me to be,” Amaranth said. “And I might have something to say about any agreement you come to… but I kind of doubt I’ll have to say anything more than ‘be careful’ and ‘yay’. And, baby, this will mean more to you if you do it on your own.”
I looked at Glory, who said nothing and gave no sign either way, and so I nodded at Amaranth.
“Okay,” I said. “See you in a bit… I love you.”
“I love you, too, baby,” she said. “So very much.”
“Why don’t you show Amaranth to my reading room?” Glory said to Grace. “She can freely examine anything that doesn’t require a key.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Grace said, going into a low bow.
“Thank you,” Amaranth said, doing a skirtless sort of curtsy, and then they were gone.
“Well…” Glory said.
“This is what you wanted, I guess?” I said. “When you first started recruiting me?”
“I don’t know what I wanted, exactly,” Glory said. “And I don’t know what I have. I’ve kissed you, and that wasn’t nothing, but I don’t know what it was. A first kiss? Is it a first kiss yet, if there hasn’t been a second?”
“It’s possible that you’re overthinking that,” I said, and she let out a short and very melodic peal of giggles.
“I’m overthinking,” she said. “No, I’m just interested in the philosophy of beginnings. A kiss does not have to mean anything, you know, which is another way of saying it could mean anything. You don’t let people date or fuck you casually, I’ve noticed… people think you do, but they’re wrong.”
“It’s not a matter of not letting,” I said. “I’m not sure I’d know how… and anyway, it’s not like it keeps coming up. I’m not fending off offers all the time. In fact, almost everybody I’ve had to reject has wanted something a lot deeper and more permanent.”
“The main exception being the Bowman boy,” Glory said, frowning. “A human should not come out of Treehome with a bigger head than he went in with… that’s just not natural.”
“I don’t want to bad mouth Jamie,” I said. “I don’t want to anything-mouth Jamie… let’s not talk about who else I’m dating, or have dated, or wouldn’t date.”
“Would you be dated by me?”
“I’d… like that, I think,” I said. “But I have a couple concerns.”
“It’s not going to affect Grace,” Glory said. “I have a place in my heart where you fit, Mackenzie, but it’s not my heart of hearts. You will not have the power to hurt me so deeply that I would tarnish my sister’s happiness out of spite or desolation.”
“Well… I’m glad that we’re both on the same page about not messing up Grace and Nicki’s thing with our own, but I’m not sure that you can actually promise that,” I said.
“I didn’t promise,” Glory said. “I’ve merely told you how I feel. As no one could do more than that, either it must be enough, or your concern must be what is called a ‘dealbreaker’.”
“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t trust you,” I said. “Okay. So we’ll both try very hard not to mess things up for them. That’s concern number one. Concern number two is where this is going, between the two of us.”
“If I knew that for a certainty, I could be equally certain how much power you would have to wound me, and whether you would use it or not,” Glory said. “But… candidly? Nowhere, eventually. This is a college fling. If I were to fall wildly in love with you, then you would still graduate and go out into the world, and sometime after I would still finish my studies in time to become an adult.”
“We could keep in touch,” I said.
“Middling attachments are not welcome in the adult world,” Glory said. “They’re a sign of immaturity and… well… weakness. But I don’t think it’s so unusual for humans, to see someone even for years while they are at university, only to part when this phase of their lives is over. It doesn’t mean there cannot be passion. It doesn’t mean there might not be love. It just means that there is not a future.”
“Love without a future,” I mused.
“Does that sound hopelessly bleak to you?” she asked.
“When I try to think about the future of my love… it often looks hopelessly bleak,” I said. “This is… I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what to make of it. Like you said, I’ve never really done casual… and a couple of times, I’ve thought that it wasn’t for me. But what you’re talking about… I don’t know, Glory.”
“Maybe the problem is that you’re thinking of temporary and casual as being the same thing,” she said. “Are you only serious about things that last forever?”
“No,” I said. “I just… I’ve always thought that the point of a relationship was to get to, you know, the forever part. You might go on a date with someone to see how that goes, and you it turn into a thing to see how that goes, and maybe it works out and maybe it doesn’t, but the end goal is always for it to work out.”
“Mackenzie… I’m not sure how to say this without sounding unwantedly cruel…”
“But do I see a forever with any of my lovers?” I said. “That’s what I meant when I said the future is bleak. But… it’s also a couple of years away. Something could work out. Something we could change. We could figure something out. We could even fall apart. The point is, I’m still trying. Whether it’s realistic or not, that’s still the goal.”
“And are these relationships what you would have imagined for yourself, when you were forming your ideas about this goal?”
“I didn’t imagine relationships for myself,” I said. “But no, they’re not what I thought of as normal, or desirable. My viewpoint’s changed a lot, about a lot of things. That’s why… I’m not telling you this to say no to you, Glory. I’m telling you this so you understand later, if I end up being kind of an asshole about it sometimes.”
“Mackenzie, I don’t understand how you could possibly be more of an asshole than you already are,” she said sweetly.
“…you think that’s a compliment, don’t you?” I said.
“Oh, that always throws me for a second,” she said. “I know how humans use it, I really do, I swear! I’m good at Pax! There’s just always this moment of confusion when someone says ‘asshole’ and I was feeling kind of gushy to begin with…”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can call me an asshole, if you want… I’ll take it as a term of endearment. It won’t be the worst thing anyone in a relationship with me calls me.”
“Yes, I know what Ian calls you,” she said, suddenly masked in ice again. “And Mackenzie, I just want to be very clear: I may look like my sister, but I’m not her. I don’t share her… proclivities… regarding the, ah, front matters.”
“I understand,” I said. “I have some… unresolved issues, anyway, that would make that kind of difficult.”
“That’s not to say… I mean, it must be understood that this is not something that can be repeated to anyone under any circumstances, but I mean, a woman has some curiosity, sometimes…”
I nodded, not sure what to say or if I had the capability to say it… there was something seriously affecting about watching Glory get all shy and flustered, the way her sister did.
“I’m very serious about that!” she said. “Not to anyone. Like, penalty of torture level secrecy.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I don’t have a lot of experience, but I will figure it out if I have to.”
“Oh, it would be pretty easy to learn as you go, with me,” I said. “Being, you know… physically invulnerable.”
“Right, and don’t you forget that,” she said. She grinned. “I know what I won’t forget.”
“That you said I have a relationship with you.”