A high-pitched sound drilled into my ear, stealing away the serene sleep. Groaning and grumbling I slapped at the alarm clock, annoyed at its persistent noise. After the fourth smack, something small hit the floor, the sound ceasing abruptly and a soft ping replaced it. It occurred to me that the offensive noise was actually coming from my phone. I peeked over the side of the bed. The time flashed above Lila’s number. 11:30am. Whoops.
Glancing back, I smiled to see Dark still there, his eyes closed as serenely as I’d ever seen. For a while I sat there, just looking at him, his broad chest rising and falling, not a trace of pain in his face. It looked like a ghost of a smile rested on his lips. Was he really sleeping? He said shades didn’t need food. Did they need sleep?
Another ping from the floor reminded me of my phone. As gently as I could I slid away from my houseguest and reached for the fallen object. My fingers brushed it before I was yanked back by two unyielding arms and clasped against a bare chest. “No.”
I did my best to sit up and scoot towards the edge of the bed. I might as well have tried to pull my Jeep out of the mud with a bike chain. “Leggo, I gotta get that.”
“You don’t.” He groaned, running his hand down my breast and stomach, stroking his thumb against the rose on my navel.
“Nghh…Daaaaark…” My skin tingled in delicious chills, but I managed to make it out of his grasp and reached over the mattress. “Do you really want her to come looking for me and find your naked ass in my bed?”
“Well I don’t,” I snapped and finally managed to stretch far enough to grab the phone. “Much as I love having your naked ass in my bed, I don’t need anyone else to see it.”
Laughing, he strapped me into his arms again. “Possessive aren’t we?”
“Says the guy literally trying to stop me from calling my friend.” I clicked redial and let myself melt against him. “Behave,” I whispered as the dial tone rang.
“Hi hi!” Lila giggled before clearing her throat. “Did you just wake up, you sloth?”
“You just called me. Maybe you’re the sloth, sloth.”
“Just fucking with you,” she giggled.
Chuckling, I shook my head. “For your information, I got up…um…earlier, not sure when, and had breakfast.” My body froze up as Dark began nuzzling the back of my neck, his hands skating across my stomach. Fire raced through my veins, stopping up my voice for a second or two. Damn him. “Um…then I…went back to bed.”
“Are you okay? You sound distracted.”
Oh, sister, you don’t know the half of it… “I’m fine. No worries,” I muttered, desperate to keep from breathing heavily into the phone. "Still sleepy I guess."
Dark nipped my earlobe, slowly letting the soft bit of skin drag through his teeth. “Invite her over if she needs proof,” he whispered silkily.
“Shhhhhhut up,” I hissed, smacking his hand sharply as it wandered toward my breast again.
“Huh? Sorry I think my phone hit a dead zone.”
Wriggling away from his roving hands, I shot him a glare before drawing my knees up to my chest. “Yeah, I’m good, just a helluva night. Might stay in bed a little longer.”
“Just making sure. I’m gonna check on the others. Have a lovely Saturday!”
“Bye-bye,” I chirped, waited for the beep of the terminated call, and then tossed the phone away from the bed. Spinning about, I leapt at the man in my bed with a growl, straddling him into a pin. “You bloody nuisance!”
“Minx!” He accused, easily flipping me over. We wrestled and writhed against each other until he got one hand under my backside and gave me a firm pinch, chuckling at my loud yelp. Before I realized my disadvantage, he had each arm down in an unbreakable grip, cutting my breathless laughter off with a crushing kiss, wild and almost too hard, but I returned it nonetheless, nipping his bottom lip. My wits spun about as he released my arms and sank his fingers into my hair, growling against my mouth.
We battled for a while until we came up for air and stared into each other’s eyes, panting and sweating. After a moment or two…or three…I was able to pull in enough air to form something coherent. “You…are…a horndog.”
“Guilty,” he grinned and let his head drop to my shoulder, tucking his face against my tangled hair. Sighing, I sank deeper into the blankets and wrapped my arms around his neck. “And what’s so wrong with that? I’ve been good and patient, haven’t I?”
“You? ‘Good’? Hah, that’s funny,” I muttered, struggling to keep my mind from turning completely to mush.
“Am I so bad?” He asked, his breath tickling my skin.
I smirked and turned my lips to his ear, deciding to give him a taste of his own medicine. “The worst,” I whispered, returning the nip he’d given me earlier.
A deep chesty growl rumbled against my breast and he let his weight sink into me, our skin melding together. “You’d best not do that, unless you want to walk very strangely for the rest of the day.”
Undaunted, I nuzzled my nose against his ear, nipping it again, a little harder. “Who says I want to get out of bed at all?”
In a flash, his fingers were around my chin and forced my eyes to his. I sucked in a shocked breath; the darkness in them hardened and spread like a storm, smoldering with desire and danger. “Is that a dare?” He rasped, smoothing his hand from my chin up to my cheek, his skin shifting from heated to freezing and back again. I shuddered. Why did I keep forgetting how absolutely alien he was?
As his thumb brushed over my mouth, a wild impulse seized me and I leaned up a little, catching the digit in my mouth, my front teeth barely sinking into the soft pad. I felt his whole body tense up, like he’d been turned to stone, a hiss of air issuing through his teeth. Releasing him, I let out my shaky breath and turned my face into his hand, pressing a kiss into his palm. “What if it is?”
In response to my question, his hand softened, his eyes going silken and gentle. Slowly, he rose up and settled between my knees, dragging both hands down my torso before lowering his mouth to my breast. “You’re playing a dangerous game, my dear. What’s gotten into you?” He murmured, twirling his tongue around on my skin.
“Mmmph…most recently, you,” I groaned, laughing nervously at my own quip through the new rise of tingles awakening in my body.
He grinned up at me through his dark, tousled hair. “Who are you, and what have you done with Cassidy?” He asked, his voice languidly amused, but I could hear the burr of desire in it.
“What have you done with Cassidy?” My teasing question suddenly sent a wave of unease through me, shooing away the mists of lust I was getting lost in. The doubts and questions from the night before began popping up like weeds, twining around the lovely sensations until they choked them out.
He’d changed, hadn’t he? Before he was cold, frightening, subtly manipulating my mind and my emotions. But he’d changed. Right?
No, I had changed. Before, I was afraid, cautious, fighting hard against his insidious attacks on my emotions. I knew it was manipulation, but I took it anyway. And now I could feel what was true, the nuances of darkness guiding me to what was right.
Dark’s face sharpened, drawing back from me just a little. “Cassidy?”
My body wriggled involuntarily, trying to put distance where it didn’t belong. I took a very deep breath, telling my nerves to shut up and my voice to speak up. “I…I hate to stop this…it feels great, but…I need to…you need to…could you get up?”
“I could,” he answered, his voice still holding onto some amusement although his face gave away no emotion.
Pulling in another deep breath, I focused on his eyes, knowing they would hold me long enough to keep my mind steady. “What’s happened Dark? Between us, I mean.”
Dark cocked his head curiously. “Are we sharing secrets?”
Exasperation huffed through my nose. What was there about my simple, mortal mind that this guy didn’t know? He held all the cards and I had no other course than to fold. “As if I even have any secrets left…”
My grumbling words were cut off as he scooped his arms under my own and sat up with me, my legs spread a little awkwardly over his hips. He settled me against the headboard rested his hands on my thighs, unmoving as he studied me. “There’s plenty I could know about you by now. Perhaps I chose not to know.” His smile grew to see my confusion and his hands slipped up to my waist, pulling me a little closer. “What’s the fun in plundering all your mind has to offer, when I could gently ply it from you? I’m nothing if not a patient being. Mysteries…secrets…forbidden knowledge…that is what a shade craves more than anything.”
What did that mean?
From the very start of this crazy trip of ours, he’d shown me that he was always in control and that I was merely a limited font of information that he could use to influence me. All the way from his use of Mark’s videos to his impossible knowledge of my old nickname, my mind was his library. Why in the world did I have any reason to believe that he honestly needed me to-
Shhhhiiiit…that velvet whisper. I felt the energy in my bones run out in a steady rush, sapping my strength out so much that I had to rest my head against his shoulder. It just wasn’t fair. Every time I found myself able to form up any sort of defense against him, all he had to do was speak to me, or touch me, or even just reach out with that gentle sublimation into my soul. Then, I was powerless…
“You are not powerless. If you could only know the strength that I do.” His hand fell against my hair in smooth, rhythmic stokes. The air pulsed in gentle vibrations, from my heart to my bones all the way to my core. “The strength that you could have…” I picked up my head and looked at him. His eyes flicked down to the black rose on my stomach and I ended up looking down too.
Shit, I must have strength if I took all that last night, I thought, certain my cheeks were glowing like fire from how hot they felt. A flare of lust licked up my spine, stirring the embers of the fire we’d been building. Maybe questions could wait…
“No.” His denial of my line of thought hit me like a dash of cold water and I snapped my eyes back up to his. In the depths of his black eyes, I could still see the heat of his own desire, but it was a low, soft burn. A corner of his mouth quirked up before he leaned forward and pressed it to my forehead. “As much as I would love to fulfill your delightful musings…there is time for that later. You need answers. I have them. Do you want them?”
The last bit of distraction fell away, all thoughts of physical satisfaction flying off to make room for the absolute hunger for the truth. If he was truly going to give me the knowledge I’d needed from the beginning, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. “Yes. I want answers. This strength…what are you offering me?” Dark’s brow furrowed for a second, then he smothered it in a smug smile. That flicker of emotion told me volumes of what lay before me. It wasn’t going to be all fun and games. Not like before. But I needed it. “I need it,” I reiterated, sure that he heard me the first time, but I had to say it for myself.
“I know you do,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around me, his cheek resting on the top of my head. I laid mine against his chest, smiling softly. It was almost too good to be true. This sly, secretive man, perfectly happy with keeping me wondering and fearing, was going to reveal some kind of forbidden knowledge to me. To me. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a great self-image, but as he’d told me so many times before, I was mundane. I was a mortal in contrast to his otherworldly status. And he was going to do this for me.
I barely felt the passage through the sheets…through the fabric of my world…into the darkness…
Everything felt soft and slithery as we descended, endless curtains of silk caressing my body like loving hands. I felt his arms too, securely holding me to his chest. We were still seated together, our legs entwined. My eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t see him. I saw nothing but darkness. A wriggling fear invaded my stomach and the memory of the horrible emptiness of the Voidrealm flooded back into me. And then it was gone. As soon as I acknowledged it, it fled. This was not the same place, because I knew it better than before. It wasn’t deathly silent or unnaturally still—a place of stasis that I was a stranger to. I wasn’t immured in a choking coffin of blackness. Now it was merely quiet and calm. Peaceful. Natural.
My hypersensitive nerves felt the presence of a floor before we touched it. It was soft and forgiving, like settling onto a cushion or a rich carpet. A mild intrusion of light opened in the blackness to reveal his dim silhouette. The soft illumination played along his face in gradients of shadow. “Quite different than your first visit, isn’t it?”
We sat there in silence for a few moments as I considered his question. Closing my eyes, I let the sensations of the world permeate me, savoring and sampling the subtleties of the atmosphere. It felt like a great welcoming embrace. It felt like his arms. They tightened around me almost as quickly as I thought it. “It feels kind of comfy.” My body melted against him, peace and security rolling through me as he laid a kiss into my hair.
“Welcome home, Cassidy.”
Craning my head back up, I gave him a curious look. “Home?”
“It’s as much yours as it is mine.” Dark drew his finger down my spine and I arched forward against him. A deep hum resonated from his chest into me. “You feel it, don’t you?”
Biting my lip, I held back a groan. How did he expect me to feel anything but him at this point? But I did. Somewhere in the corners of my hearing, soothing whispers echoed all around me. I couldn’t begin to understand the words, but somehow I knew it was a whispered fanfare to my presence. “Home,” I said quietly, mulling the thought over in my head. A home away from home? An escape from whatever might bother me in the real world? Perhaps that was unfair, deeming my world the “real” one. This world, this realm had every bit of the trueness, the tangible reality of mine. It was still incredibly strange and unknown, but I was learning. I was acclimating. It could be mine.
And I wanted it.
Dark’s arms squeezed in, his embrace becoming more constricting. “You must know what I’m asking of you as much as what I’m offering. I can’t promise that everything will be easy or even enjoyable.”
I chuckled. “Sounds like life to me.”
He answered my laugh with his own. There was a dead, calm numbness at the end of it. “Beyond life. Beyond death.”
The time I had for questions was over and a stinging cold wind enveloped me, the feeling of his arms and his body just gone. Torn between reaching for him and protecting my exposed skin from the biting cold, I balled up into a tight little knot and squeezed my eyes shut. The wind pulled and pushed on all sides of my body, careening me through the endless expanse. “Damn you! GODDAMN YOU DARK! You said no more games!”
My scream cut the wind off at its source, turning the air dead and still around me. Something had changed. I felt gravity, felt a normalization in the atmosphere, but I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes and face it. My feet touched on something hard but unstable. A subtle breeze danced across my skin. I didn't move. I couldn't.
“This isn’t a game,” Dark’s voice boomed around me. It wasn’t in my head this time. He was around here somewhere. “This…is a lesson. So you’ll know just what you’re asking of me. So you’ll know what can happen when someone delves into something so far beyond them.”
My arms unlocked at last, instinctively reaching my hands out and feeling about for any clue as to what happened. Nothing, no walls, nothing around me, and I dared not walk forward without knowing what I was standing on. My eyelid peeked up a little and pressed shut again. I didn't want to look. "Then why let me?" I yelled, clenching my fists at my sides. "If I'm not meant for this, why put me through it?"
“I never said you weren’t mean for this. But it’s still more than you can fully understand, and you deserve the chance to know the stakes.” Blinded by my own fear, I couldn’t dare a look around to search for him, but I heard so much in his voice. Solemnity, apprehension, anticipation. Even now, thrown into some insane situation, when I wanted to be pissed off at him, I felt strangely…ready. Maybe it was the horrific scenarios he’d subjected me to, or the fact that we’d become physically closer. Maybe I was going crazy and this was becoming normal to me. Whatever the reason, I had no impulse in me to say no or beg him to send me home.
The ground swayed beneath me. The breeze picked up and raised gooseflesh on my limbs.
I opened my eyes.
"I am nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too?"
Name! That! Poet!
Current Residence: Weimar, Texas
Favourite genre of music: ROCK!
Favourite photographer: Andres Serrano
Favourite style of art: Abstract
Operating System: PC
Favorite cartoon character: Donald Duck
Personal Quote: Though Lady Justice may place her thumb on the scales, don't be angry. She just has fat thumbs.