Chapter 25: Loneliness

A/N: This is a long chapter, but it has in it some key moments.
Next chapter, stuff really ‘hits the fan’ again. >:)
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Orion

      Today is Vik and Sama’s wedding. An actual wedding, for the FIRST TIME here since eop. I still don’t care what Rohan and Yadira say.

     It’s an actual wedding because Zuri presided over it. She’s our self-proclaimed priestess and chronicler, and no one is arguing that fact, especially not Yadira.

     This is what a wedding looks like, Yadira: an officiator, witnesses. Of course, in the old days, there would be a proper reception: a band or DJ, food, drinks, dancing. We’re having to ration our food supply since the garden didn’t produce enough for double the number of people on the island, them not knowing we would show up when Yadira planted the garden in the spring. But Sama has a plan.
     That’s not saying we have no way to celebrate. Yadira managed to whip up a batch of a drink using a kind of root she harvested. It’s not too bad. We also brought the card table and are going to have a bonfire (using materials Vik gathered around the town for this specific purpose). I suppose it’s time to start new traditions.

      I find Yadira at the drink bowl. “So what did ya think of the ceremony?” I’m rubbing it in; I know I am. I can’t help it.
      “It was lovely, and it was what Vik and Sama wanted.” There’s been a change in her in the recent weeks. I think it has a lot to do with her growing friendship with Zuri. Yadira still remembers nada, but she’s becoming more confident in herself–not stressing so much over the loss of her memories.
      “It was real.” I suppose I will never truly give up on her, even if it’s created a rift in the ‘family.’
      She does a small, mock bow. “Well, I’m glad it meets your strict approval. It’s not every day that happens.” She’s furious with me, I’m guessing. I can only guess because she refuses to discuss anything with me in private.

      The others come over to try and then exclaim over Yadira’s ‘new’ drink. Zuri takes the seat next to me.
     Asa asks Rohan and me to join him in a game of cards, saying the whole point we brought the table down was to play so we may as well get to it. I sit opposite Rohan.

      My blood boils when I look across the table. And to think, I used to really like him. “Care to place a wager on this one?”
      Rohan lets out a short ‘hah’ of a laugh. “You WOULD ask that, wouldn’t you?”      Asa looks uncomfortable as his eyes go back and forth between us. “Guys, I just wanted to play.”
      I ignore him, instead addressing Rohan again. “I think you can guess what it is I want.”

      Asa’s shocked. “Dude. Are you serious? Over a game of cards?”
      Rohan sighs in an aggravated fashion. “Yes, Asa. You see, the man is that desperate, and desperate men act like idiots.”
      I still watch Rohan as he fights to control his temper. I get more specific. “One night then.” And once she has me, she’ll never want you again.
       Rohan laughs meanly. “Oh, that should be hilarious. I’ll make sure she’s armed to the teeth.”
      Asa’s flabbergasted. “You two realize she’s a person, right?”
      “Yes, of course we do,” I assure him. “But she will barely speak to me.”
      Rohan glares. “There’s a good reason for that.” He sits back and ponders. “All right. If I win, you leave.” 
    “Leave? Where would I go?”
      “I couldn’t give a fuck.”
      I think for a moment. I really expect to beat him. “Okay, but it’ll only be to live in the off-site settlement.”
      “I can’t believe this is happening,” Asa pipes in, but he agrees to be the mediator in our bet. “If I win, you two have to stop this stupid feud.”

      Normally, I’m very casual when I play cards. To me, it’s never been about winning. I’ve always just liked being in people’s company with some good natured banter and friendly competition. Today, this is anything but friendly.
     I’m not daft. I can imagine that Yadira would shriek if she heard about my proposition. She may not even agree to it, and I expect that. But it’s the CHANCE that I want. I just need to talk to her, to explain myself. Somewhere in that woman is a part of her that loves me, and I want her to see it for herself. Yes, of course I’d love to have her in every way, but I’m not pressing my luck.

     “Hah!” Rohan shouts, a look of vicious triumph in his eyes. “Beat that!” He slaps his cards on the table. How did he get a hand like that so quickly?
     I sadly put my cards down, showing my lack of a winning hand. My heart sinking, I say, “I’ll move tonight.”

     We have the bonfire part of the party, but all it does is make me feel more isolated, more alone.

      Rohan won’t stop grinning like the biggest ass.

      After Vik and Sama leave for the settlement, I make my exit as well. I’m just the extra wheel anyway.

     So this is my new home. It’s where I kissed Yadira for the first time.

      I light the table lantern.
      I’ll be fine. This home isn’t so bad. I don’t know why someone didn’t live in it before. I look around, and the empty loneliness is more than I can bear.

     How did my life become such a huge pile of shite? Should I have stayed with the Skeeves? Put up with Reck and his insanity? In crossing the ocean, I’ve condemned myself to a life of almost monkitude, alone.

      After praying the flue isn’t full of anything that might cause a chimney fire, I start a fire in the small furnace in the bedroom. I’m glad for its warmth because the night is freezing.
     A month passes. I only visit the main settlement occasionally. Sama was made aware of my agreement with Rohan, and she visits now and again to make sure I have enough to eat and so forth. I’m thrilled to the bone when she tells me she’s expecting Vik’s babe.

     Zane grows up practically overnight, and there isn’t a soul alive that would argue about his paternity. We’d all expected he would turn out more like Sama, but nature likes to surprise us.

     In my boredom, I discover something about the drink Yadira figured out how to make. If left out and covered for several days, it ferments, and it tastes decent enough once one removes the nasty film that sits on the top of it. And it helps keep me warm.
     I make good use of it with the job Sama gives me.

     Where I live has an excellent vantage point looking out to sea, so I spend quite a bit of my time sitting on my rooftop, drinking and watching the world go by.
     My new job is all because of Vik’s paranoia. He truly expects unfriendly visitors. Maybe he’s right. Or maybe we’re all just utterly mad.

     I belch and look at my empty glass. I’ve just about run out of the root used to make my drink. Bugger. I suppose I could just go to the old town and see if I can find more bottles of old whiskey.
     I smile at the prospect. It’s early spring, and the weather is improving, which should make the journey easier than last time. In fact, the snow around me doesn’t make sense because it’s not that cold today.
     Then a small glint from the sea catches my eye. Hold the phone. Wha’s that? I clumsily reach for my binoculars.

      My heart stops. I can hardly believe it. A sailboat.

Chapter 24: Guide

A/N: Eop = end of plague. I started abbreviating it while doing the cast of characters tab, and it started to make sense to me that it may as well become a word in this society to mark when time really changed. So it’s 16 years past eop, or just year 16, yr16, y16. Eh, language is alive, and I have to think about how it would evolve in this period of ‘history.’

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Zuri

     When I first met Yadira, I was insanely jealous. First of all, she had Rohan, one of very few men I’ve not been able to seduce (the other preferred men, a secret I will continue to keep). But mostly, I could see it like writing on her skin. The gods are with her. They bless her, and she didn’t even know it!
     My first night, I hardly slept for thinking of it. By morning, however, I realized that it’s not her fault she doesn’t know it.

     But I didn’t know what to do about it! It was so plainly obvious to me that she was no mere girl, but I kept getting hints that she wasn’t ready to hear my thoughts on who she may really be. She’s had no one to teach her these things, and I start to wonder if that’s why I’m here, if that’s why I’ve gone through everything I’ve gone through. I could never be positive, though.
     Until that morning…

    IT had happened. The gods have placed their mark on her, and with it, I see my path. I have been brought to her.
     First, I am her guide.

     “Hello, Yadira.” I find her after blissfully satisfying my Asa. I haven’t told her my thoughts yet due to all the activity that Amina’s father has us doing. Luckily for me, I’ve stayed out of it, claiming I need to care for our daughter and try to figure out what’s going on with our young goddess. (At least I finally convinced Vik she’s not a demon!)
     “Hello, Yuri.” She pauses then quickly corrects herself. “I mean Zuri.”
     As if I needed more proof. “Thank you. I prefer Zuri. Yuri makes me think my parents wanted a boy.” Besides, I think Zuri sounds cuter. At eop, it was a kind of fad to change our names. I changed mine when I encountered the Skeeves.
     Her mouth drops, a look of surprise on her face. “I did it again,” she whispers.
     “You mean to say you know things about people that you feel like you should not know.” And of course, I’m instantly curious what those things are. But this all goes in line with my thoughts, the fact that she just KNOWS things.
     “Y-yes. And I hate that! Why can’t I know things about MYSELF?”
     “You will remember again.” But it may be a long time from now. A long time… which she will probably have thanks to the fountain.

      “You mean to say you’ve found some books?” She knew I’d been doing the research.
      I smile. “Yes and no. Yes to the books, but no, I don’t think they’re accurate. There are things that, like you, I just KNOW.” I’m so grateful for everything I was taught previously. The books here on this side of the world make the things I’m looking for seem like they’re total fiction, and they downplay them like children’s stories. In doing so, I worry they have omitted valuable information. I can’t remember every detail I’ve ever learned.
      “Okay… But you think I’ll get my memories back?”
      I quickly work out in my mind a way I could tell her that she might understand. “Yes, but you need to go on a spiritual journey.” The memories are not the most important thing! I inwardly sigh because I know that’s all she wants.
      She looks at me strangely. “A what?”

     I’m guessing what she’s thinking. I suppose that wasn’t the BEST way to put it. “I don’t mean have your spirit leave your body. Your memories were taken from you for a reason. That reason is to get you to focus on your journey. If you still had your memories, you would not be as inclined as to seek out the meaning behind all this.” You would not be as inclined as to figure out your true self, and in figuring that out, everything else will fall into place, I pray.
     “So if I can figure out the meaning my memories were taken, I’ll get them back?”
     “Yeeeees, of a sort. You need to realize your purpose on this earth.” I pause and decide to go ahead and tell her my personal thoughts. Maybe that will get her to see. “In meeting you and seeing what I’ve seen, I now know my purpose. And the first thing is to guide you on this journey. It has to be why I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through.” Before my grandmother died (when the world was sane), she taught me many things. My mother was trying to continue teaching me when the plague took her. So many deaths…
    Yadira nods. “Jers.” She even pronounces his name correctly.
    Tears sting my eyes. How does she know? “Did Rohan tell you?”

     She too looks like she wants to cry. “No! Y-Zuri, why does this happen to me? I can see them. He tripped, and Rohan tried to catch him.”
     I suddenly hug her, crying. “Thank you.” I also offer up a silent prayer to the goddess. “He was my brother, and I wanted to believe Rohan’s story. Now I know. Thank you.”
     “If you’re supposed to be my guide, tell me why I can see this horrible thing yet can’t remember last month?”
     “It has to be more proof that we are on the right path. It was a gift to me, but I’m sorry it brings you sadness.”
     “I’m sorry you lost your brother.”
     They’re so simple, her words. But they unleash a torrent of grief from me.

     She holds me while I cry like I’ve never cried before, which may be true. I didn’t have time to cry over finding my parents dead from the plague. I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to cry over Jers the way I needed to. Reck wouldn’t let me, saying it was a sign of weakness. But here, in the presence of Yadira, I let it out.
    With the world still shuddering from its tremendous loss, we need her.
    This is why the gods sent her. This is why she’s a woman. This is why so many are drawn to her.
    As for who, or more accurately what, she is, I don’t know for sure. She could be the goddess herself. She could be her daughter. She could be a physical manifestation of the spirit of the goddess. Maybe some combination. Maybe she’s a new, very-in-tune high priestess, but I think my original guesses are closer to the mark.
     My first step may be in being her guide, but my last will be in letting her guide me.

Chapter 23: Betrayed

Rohan

     “Leave,” I tell the worthless bastard. “You’ve done enough damage for one night.” My throat still hurts from where he clipped me with his arm, but I’m ignoring it.
     I’ve never trusted the pile of garbage after I saw the way he looked at Yadira that first day, and ever since Yadira’s mysterious loss of memory, I’ve kept a close eye on her, wondering if he’d try to take advantage of the situation–since she has no memories of me either.

      I’m not quite sure how he managed it, but he’d somehow seduced her to the point that he looked like he was ready to carry her off, even though she told him ‘this isn’t right.’
      Before she’d said that, I’d worried I’d somehow lost her, that she preferred him over me. After all, the first thing I saw when I’d rounded the corner was HER kissing HIM. And after all that with her assuring me she knew she loved me. Then what was that then?
      In my turmoil of emotions, hearing her say that and trying, not very hard mind you but still trying, to push him away made up my mind: It’s mostly his fault.
      And, I admit, on a much more primal level, I was seeing red that he was trying to seduce MY woman. I wasn’t going to stand for it.

     Of course I couldn’t fight him. He was a bloody foot soldier for fuck’s sake. Before that, he took part in a sort of street fighting tournament that was popular with our lot for a time.
     But when Yadira called him something, some other name, he paused in shock. I took that moment to start pounding him.
     Then the bastard gave me a look like he was about to try for the pity card should he ‘let me’ beat him up. There was no way I could win! … until Yadira wrapped her arm around me.
     I won anyway.

     “Rohan, please.” I’m brought back to the present moment, and I tighten my arms around my beautiful wife.

       “Shhhhhhhh,” I croon her as I stroke her hair. Her crying has progressed to the hiccuping stage, and it breaks my heart.
       She won’t stop trying to apologize, her words stuttering as she tries to get them out. “I-I d-don’t know h-how I c-could le-et that ha-appen. Ple-ease do-on’t hate me-e.”
       “Never. Please stop crying.” I honestly don’t know why I’m not upset with her. Takes two to tango, as they say. Maybe if she had her memories, this would be rougher on me, but I KNOW Orion was using the situation to his advantage, also using her lack of experience as he probably flooded her with more than she could withstand. It was her trying to pull away that sold me on that fact. Of course, everything she’s crying/mumbling/sobbing out to me also helps me to understand.
      “I wa-as trying to-o avoid hi-im, but it di-didn’t work. I’m s-sorry.”
      “Yadira, shh. Calm down. I don’t hate you; I could never, ever hate you. I’m not mad at you.” I could kill Orion, though. “Calm down, and we can talk.” She starts up what might be another wail, but I stop her. “No. Shh. It’ll be okay. I love you.”

      After we stand here for several minutes, me stroking her hair and rocking us back and forth, her breathing finally returns to normal.
      “How can you say it’ll be okay?” she asks sadly.
      I lightly shrug. “Because I love you, and I want it to be.”
      “How can you say you love me when you don’t even know me?”
      “What? What are you talking about?”

     She lifts her head, and I look into her reddish eyes as they swim with more tears. “How can you claim to know me when I’m not even me anymore?”
     “How can you ask that? And of course you’re you.”
     She shakes her head no. “I’ve been told things as YOU remember them. I have no idea what I was thinking during those moments. All I can do is guess.”
      “Yadira, you’re you. When something happens, you react exactly like you would have before.”
      Her face crumples up. “React? Like before? Rohan, he… He said he kissed me right before I lost my memories.”

      “What?” I gasp out. I feel like I’m falling into a deep pit, so deep that I’ll break every bone in my body when I hit the bottom. Wasn’t I just thinking how it would’ve been worse had this happened before she lost her memories?
      She must not like the look on my face because she tries to back away, but all that does is make me tighten my grip on her. “Rohan, I didn’t kiss him back.”
     “How do you know?” I ask even though I can guess the answer.
     “He told me.” Yes, of course he told her, which makes the fact that she didn’t kiss him back all the more believable. “He’s been chasing me ever since, but I was trying to avoid him.”
      No, he’s been chasing her for longer than that. Wait… she was trying to avoid him on her own, meaning she’s known for a while what happened. “Ever since…” When after she lost her memories would he have told her this? “There was a time between then and now? How often has this happened? And why didn’t you tell me about it?”
      She looks like she’s about to burst into tears again. “This was his third attempt, and I didn’t tell you because… because I was trying to figure out what I was going to do.”
      I let go of her, more like jerk back away from her. Did someone just run me through? I clutch at my chest because of how badly it hurts. Why did she have to try to ‘figure out’ what to do? As if she had to consider whether or not she’d chose him? I take a couple steps away from her.
      “Rohan, please!” She closes the distance and puts her hand on my chest.

      I almost wrap my arms around her again, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
      “Please don’t hate me. I can’t stand it. I was so confused!”
      Is this why we still haven’t made love? She didn’t want to while she was still considering being with Orion?
      “I had nothing to go on other than emotions.” She kisses me but gets no response.
      She didn’t help her case just now. Emotions. Yes, including emotions she felt for him. Her words stab me again. I put my hand between us.

      “Stop,” I tell her in a plain voice. I put my finger on her perfect lips. “Just… stop.”
      “Rohan?” Her beautiful eyes open in a worried question.
      “You were going on emotions? Then why were you kissing him just now?” Orion had better keep far away from me. But I want to know the answer to my question from Yadira.
      “I don’t love him.”
      “That isn’t what I asked.” Even though it’s still nice to hear.
      “I don’t know. He drew me in. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Please, Rohan. It’s killing me that I hurt you. I love YOU.”
      My finger has brushed aside, so she kisses me again.

      She keeps lightly kissing me, pulling back each time. Fuuuuuck. She’s pressed against me, tempting me like a siren. Damn it all. I can deal with the rest later. Right now, I have to fucking kiss her senseless.

     She makes a startled noise from the sudden ferocity of my kiss. This is what you wanted, right? If kissing is what she’s asking for, she’ll get it.
     Fuck! I can’t get that image out of my mind! She was kissing him! How can she do that and then say she loves me? It’s… it’s… cruel! Why did she have to do that? Why did she need to kiss someone else?
    She whimpers because I’m being brutal, and I hate myself for it. Tears escape my eyes. The woman I love betrayed me. And here I thought I was winning her heart all over again, yet she was being happily seduced by a jackass. Is a jackass really what she wants?
     I picture in my mind how I could maybe change for her. I could be like he is. I could seduce her past where she’s comfortable and make her think it was her idea. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to. It’s true that I fucking want her. In fact, I want her right now, pain and anger included. It’s what she wants, right? I could live with myself that it won’t be as pure and loving as I want it to be. Couldn’t I?
    My emotions take a nose dive. I find the bottom of the proverbial pit I was falling into earlier, and I’m in agony. A sob escapes me. I can’t do it. Call me a fool, but I can’t do it. I really fucking love her, and I don’t WANT to be a jackass. I break from the kiss. I have no idea what expression I wear when I look down at her.
     “Rohan, I’m so sorry.”
     For a moment, I think about walking away from her right now. What if, after everything, she still wants him? What if I’ve lost everything with her losing her memories and she thinks she wants him even after I work to try and restore what we had? Better to walk away now, right? But I can’t lose her! I go right back to how I was holding her before.

     She doesn’t resist me clutching at her while tears stream down my face.
     Calm down, you idiot, I tell myself. Think about what she told you: the first time, before she lost her memories, she was basically attacked and didn’t kiss him back. Next, she’d lost her memories and didn’t know what to do. Then, she decided what to do but didn’t know how to handle it, so she avoided him–or tried to. After that, the sonofabitch used every weapon he could against her, and she made a mistake. And she realized it was a mistake and was beginning to try to get him to stop. I have to believe she was about to fight him harder than that.
     And she chose you. I let in the closest thing to a full breath in what feels like ages. More crying escapes as I let it out.
     “I love you, Yadira,” I tell her and kiss her hair. I want what we had before, and we got there because I was patient. However, I didn’t have to worry about an asshole lurking around every corner back then. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up.
     She starts quietly crying again. “I’m so sorry.”
     “I know.” I take a breath. “But it hurts.”
     “What can I do?”
     “Forgive me for being an ass just now.” That violent kiss didn’t help me prove I’m better than he is.
     “You’re allowed to be angry.”
     “But I’m not allowed to take it out on you like that.”
     “It’s okay, Rohan.”
      I get quiet and hold her, thinking about how it’s not okay. But there’s not much more that can be done right now. We’ll just have to work through it. Oh, and banish Orion. That’ll help.

Chapter 22: Alone

A/N: The stupid game update made it to where a few of my doors and every single one of my CC windows don’t work, so things won’t match what they were before (or will be, depending on when the pics were shot). I guess chalk it up to more improvements to the settlement. /sigh.

Orion

      Now that Vik moved in with Sama, he went ahead and destroyed the rest of the aircraft, him no longer needing the cabin to use as a makeshift house.
     Rohan has a good idea: We need to build tunnels, underground rooms. They could be used as a cellar if nothing else.

     A few days after phase one of the cellars is complete, Rohan pulls me aside, wanting me to see something.

     I smirk at his outfit when I see it. He still likes to make his own clothes when he can. He pulled that leather from some furniture we found on the mainland. The furniture was too big to lug back to the island, but Rohan stripped it of its leather.
     “Asa and I have constructed something I’d like you to see,” Rohan says, leading me in the direction of the cellar.
     “Do Vik an’ Sama know?”
     “It was Vik’s idea.”
     So I’m the last to know. Good to know where I stand.
     We get down into the cellar, and my mouth drops. There is fencing and doors with locks where there used to be only rooms. “What the bloomin’ hell is this then?”

      “They’re holding cells. We can use them for storage for when we don’t need them.”
     “An’ when exactly do we plan on needin’ ’em?”
     “This is all part of Vik’s defensive plan.”
     “Why am I just now seein’ all this?” My tone heavily implies how I don’t like being left out of things.
     “Look, mate, he asked me to ask you to give me a tour of the traps you’ve created at the beaches, so don’t act like you’re the only one kept in the dark.”
     I suddenly smile.

      Yes, I’d LOVE to ‘show’ you the traps. And how to trip them. When it comes to Yadira, Rohan is beating me at every turn. I can’t blooming help it if he gets to sleep with her every night. Even worse, she’s avoiding me, making it impossible for me to get her alone. So, yes, I’d love to ‘show’ Rohan the traps.
     “Fine, fine. Meet me at sunup and we’ll have a little tour.”
     He agrees, and he shows me how the cell doors lock and unlock, a rather ingenious design that Vik invented. It doesn’t need keys, but it’s impossible to unlock from the other side. Rather tricky if you ask me. The doors, at least, have a sturdy safety on them so we don’t accidentally lock ourselves inside.

     The settlement is changing daily.

     The biggest change is the lack of the ruined buildings. The ones in the worst condition were torn down, and we piled the bricks where the structures once stood. Vik happily gathered the steel rebar, which probably greatly contributed to the fencing, doors, and locks in the cellar.

(I will update with the appropriate acknowledgement when I make note of who made this lot.)

     Speaking of gathering, we have made many more trips to the old town and brought back loads upon loads of supplies and useful items (including chickens!). We’ve turned what Asa used to live in into a storage facility.
     And with not knowing what else to do with herself, Yadira has discovered she’s rather gifted with cataloguing and organizing everything. So with Rohan discussing with Asa about more work to be done with the cellar, I know exactly where to find her–alone.

      She looks so beautifully ridiculous that I want to melt when I see her. That dress is too big for her. The sleeves keep falling off her shoulders, one at a time, and she’s constantly fixing them. The scarf or handkerchief in her hair makes her look like a peasant, which she is anything but.
     “Hello, Benjamin,” she says with a little smile, looking at me like she can see into my very soul.
     “Evenin’, lovely Yadira. I was wonderin’ if I could talk wiv ye for a bit.” Even in those rags, she takes my breath away.
     Her small smile turns to a look of worry. I knew it. She’s been avoiding me.
     “I… I really should go see if Sama needs help with–“
     “Have ye been avoidin’ me?” I interrupt.
     She pauses, so I continue.

      “I’ve been tryin’ to catch ye alone so we could chat.”
     Her eyes dart around for a moment, almost like she’s devising an escape route. “What about?”
     “What ‘about’? How can ye ask such a thing? About US.” I should’ve been more persistent. I should’ve found a moment or ten when I could literally snatch her away from her duties so that I could remind her of how she feels about me, of how I feel about her. But we’ve all been so busy thanks to Vik’s paranoid delusions. Well, maybe not delusions. It’s probably a good idea to have defenses in place. While we’ve been digging and building and demolishing, Yadira has never been alone.

      She sighs. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have strung you along like this, but I can’t do this. I don’t know WHAT the old me was thinking getting myself tangled up in this mess. I never should’ve led you to believe–“
     I interrupt again. “Led me to believe? Led me to believe… the truth?”
     Her posture stiffens. “The truth is I am married to Rohan.”
     I am more than ready for this debate.

      The sun hides behind clouds on its journey to the horizon, and I take a breath, prepared to once and for all shred her declaration. “Ye already know how I feel about that. I don’t count it as real. But even if, let’s say, ye WERE, then why are ye married wi’ feelin’s fer another man?”
     She takes a step back, and I stand my ground. “I love Rohan. My heart tells me I always have.”
     “An’ what does yer heart have to say about me?” She’s lying if she says she feels nothing, and I’ll happily prove it to her otherwise should she do so.
     “I… I LIKE you, Benjamin. But you have to stop this. I don’t know why you affect me the way you do, but I’m no longer going to act on it.” She tries to stand taller. “I’m not attracted to you; I’m sorry.”
     WHAT? In my momentary shock, she manages to slip past me, but only just so. I grab her wrists and turn her around to face me. “Yadira–“
     “Let me go!” She’s terrified. Dammit.
     I immediately let go of her wrists, but instead, I gently caress her face. She pauses.

      She’s shaking, and I imagine she’s like a small rabbit caught by a fox. She refuses to look into my eyes. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” she whispers.
     I continue stroking her cheek. “Then don’t.”
     “You have to stop this. You have to let it go.”
     “I canna. If I could, I would, but I canna. I have never met nor will I ever meet anyone else like you. Yer worth fightin’ for… so much so that I would continue until my dyin’ breath.”
     “No,” she whispers like she’s willing it to be untrue.

      “Ye know it’s true. If ye would but give me a chance, I could show ye just how deeply I love you.” I watch her close her eyes. My voice drops to a whisper. “Just a chance, Yadira. Let me.” I tilt her chin up.

     Yes. This is what I need. Yadira can’t resist me kissing her, and I purposefully keep it gentle, drawing her in. Sweet Mary and Joseph, she kisses me back, and I have to fight myself to remain in control, keeping back the impulse to roughly demand ownership of all of her. No, I want her to meet me there, so I continue to gently encourage her.
     It’s wonderful. Sweet Yadira is kissing me back with growing intensity. The last time, I wanted her immediately. This time looks to be the same, but I need her to want it too. She will, with enough time.
     I moan and grab her shoulder before pushing the dress halfway down her arm, exposing a portion of her breast. I can’t help it; I start increasing my intensity.
     She pulls back and fixes her dress. “Wait.”

      “Why?” I want to push her dress back down. Where should I take her? There’s a chair immediately behind her. The table off to the side is a bit too flimsy for how I’d want to use it. In the next ‘room,’ there’s a sofa, but if I’m going that far away, I may as well take her upstairs to the bed. But first, the dress.
     “This isn’t right,” she says as I kiss her neck.
     “Feels more than right to me,” I mutter against her delicious skin.
     The next voice I hear makes my blood run cold.

      “I think I agree with my WIFE on this one.”
     Yadira tries to escape my grasp, but I hold her fast while I glare at my very rude competition. “Bugger off, ye damn wanker. She’s na yer wife anymore than one of the chickens is.”
     “Sonofabitch, I’ll remove you myself!” He charges at me.

      Idiot! He attempts to punch me while I deftly dodge it and simultaneously get lovely Yadira out of the way. My forearm goes for his throat as if by its own will, and he coughs, unable to avoid the strike. He’s never been any good at hand-to-hand combat, and he’s an imbecile thinking he can have a go at me.
     Seeing my advantage, I take it and shove him face-first onto the rotting floorboards.

      I don’t have to punch him that many times for him to get the point. “Yer an imbecilic, spoiled brat of a festerin’ dunghill not worth a tenth of her, an’ it’s about damn time ye learned that.”
     Yadira’s crying. “Stop it! Leave him alone!”
     Rohan struggles violently, but he’s unable to match my weight. “She’s… not… yours!”
     “Benjamin, let him go!”
     Shock rips through me as I hear my real name again, making me pause in my assault.
     And Rohan sees his own advantage now. Before I realize it, I’m flipped onto my back.

      “You want to talk ‘not worth her,’ fucker?” Punch. “Find a mirror!” Punch punch.
     “No, Rohan, stop it!” Now Yadira is yelling for my sake. Hell, if it makes him look like an ass, he can beat me to a bloody pulp if he likes. I can take it.
     Rohan glares at me before ‘helping’ me stand. As we face each other, Yadira scares me when she runs between us. You don’t run between two bulls ready to kill each other! I have to immediately cancel my instinct to punch at him. Unlike him, I won’t strike if there’s a chance Yadira could get hurt.

       He yells something to me, but I don’t even hear him. I’m entirely focused on how the lovely Yadira presses herself against HIM while pushing ME away. What? But… No! ROHAN’S the ass here. Why are you pushing ME away? 
     “Just go, Orion,” she tells me, and my heart breaks that she didn’t call me Benjamin.

       And there you have it, I think as Yadira cries in Rohan’s arms, her apologies to Rohan doing their best to escape in her sobbing.
     I stumble off into the night. Alone.

Chapter 21: Busy

NSFW

Sama

     For the past week, Vik has been a frequent-to-constant visitor at my place. That’s not saying I don’t have other visitors frequently. My house has always been a sort of ‘central hub’ of activity, it being the only decent building for a long while. But Vik practically moves in.

      I’m not saying I mind. He’s also really attached himself to Zane, and I’m always grateful whenever he can calm my son so that I can finish whatever ‘mother-to-the-family’ task I have going.
     Sometimes, when no one else is around, he surprises me in some ardent way. One time, I was sitting on the couch reading, and he took the book out of my hand before kissing me like there was no tomorrow. I’d started to argue with him, saying him taking the book was rude, but he didn’t give me a chance. I soon gave up, though, because the man can really kiss–not that I have anyone else for comparison. But I’m not making any complaints.
     We’ve made out on the couch several times, and I sometimes wonder why he hasn’t pushed for more. Sex is no big deal, right?

     “Aren’t you cold?” he asks me.
     I sigh. “I suppose I am.” It’s been getting colder and I have warmer clothes, yes, but he stares at me with that hungry look MORE when I wear this.
     I finish preparing the fish, smile at him while hiding the strange hurt that he wants me to put on more clothes, and go upstairs to change.
     But before I can get to my wardrobe, I find out him asking me that was all a ruse so that he could pull off one of his surprises again. I hadn’t even heard him come up the stairs. One second I’m facing my wardrobe, and the next, I’m spun around, in his arms, and his mouth is on mine.

     I don’t think he’s ever been to my bedroom. My house may be a kind of public place, but my bedroom isn’t.
     I’m falling madly in love with him. It’s terrifying, but I can’t help it. He’s so perfect for me, even when his temper gets out of hand. Am I crazy for saying I even love his temper? I must be because that makes no sense. A hot temper is not a good thing, but if it ever gets directed at me, something comes over me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like I handle it, like I can physically mold it with my hands as if it were clay, and he apparently loves that.
     He moans and slowly starts walking me backwards.

     His hand moves to my ass, and he moans again when he squeezes it.
     “Sama, you’re driving me insane.”
     Huh? “What? How?”
     He kisses me again before answering, “By going around in this skimpy summer outfit.”
     “Oh. That kind of insane.”
     “Yes.” He bends his knees a fraction, puts his hands UNDER my skirt, and stands again while simultaneously grabbing my ass once more. “Shit, do you have any idea how many times I’ve wanted to do that?”
     “What, grab my ass?”
     “Yes. I think I’ll just go through life with my hands cupping your ass. That won’t be too much of an inconvenience for you, will it? I shouldn’t think so.” He chuckles, and I realize we’re much closer to my bed.

      “But then I couldn’t do this.” His hand covers my breast.
     I say his name, not for any real reason. It just comes out. I’m about to jump him if he doesn’t do something about what he’s doing to me. Our eyes lock, and he nudges me back onto the bed.

      He reaches for my underwear, and I hear the front door open. Shit. 
     “They’re here for supper,” I whisper to him.
     He responds quietly back to me, “Hm. I prefer the main course served up here.”
     I gasp when I figure out what he wants to do to me, and I move to get away. I can guess I won’t be able to stay quiet through that. But he grabs me and pulls me back to him.

     I gasp several times and whimper. I can’t take it! I’m going to lose my mind, and everyone is going to come running upstairs to see ‘what’s wrong.’ I whisper desperately, “Vik, please.”
     But all he does is chuckle deep in his throat as a response, and he happily chases me all over the bed, removing our clothes as he does. When I come, he swiftly moves…

     …thrusting himself inside me.
     I hear voices from below, “Where are Vik and Sama?” I think it was Zuri.
     A whimper slips out when Vik starts slowly moving, watching me.
     Next, I hear Orion’s unmistakable voice, “I have a guess.” I picture him grinning. “They’re busy.”
     I want to scream from how Vik is driving me out of my mind.
     “Yes,” Vik whispers to me, “Vik and Sama are busy.” He takes a deep breath, never stopping. “And will be for quite some time.”
     My eyes roll backwards, and I pant to keep from screaming. Shit, I had no idea it really could be like this. Those romance writers must’ve been pulling from experience, not imagination.
     Having an almost-audience must turn him on–because he starts testing me, seeing what drives me the most insane. The conversation has picked up downstairs, and I see him smiling when I grab one of the pillows to scream into it.

     “Shit, Sama,” he whispers into my ear several minutes later, “I had no idea it could be THIS good.”
     “Please, go faster.”
     He laughs quietly. “No way. Then I,” he stresses the ‘I,’ “won’t be able to stay quiet.”
     I hear Orion ask everyone if they’d like to play a game of cards when I start hitting Vik. He smiles again, snatches my wrists, and pins them to the bed.
     He leans down to me, “I’ve waited a lifetime for you, Sama. The last thing I want is to hurry this along.” Then he kisses me, and I’m positive now that I love him.

     We make love for hours, and I finally realize what that means. It’s more than sex. Sex IS a big deal, especially when it’s with someone you love as deeply as I do Vik.
     When at last we’re exhausted, I hear Zane starting to stir. Next, I faintly hear Orion’s voice as he coos to him, getting him to calm down. I know I’ll have to go and feed Zane in a little bit, but I appreciate Orion’s helpfulness.
     Vik and I talk quietly about a future we want, and I really want him by my side. I love him. I need him. If he’s proclaimed me this ‘leader’ person, I need guidance at times. His temper aside, Vik is really good at thinking things through.
     “I love you,” I breathe to him.
     He opens his eyes and smiles. “You stole my line.” He kisses me. “I love you, too.” He takes a huge, contented breath, and we cuddle some more on the bed.

       “So much,” he continues. “Who else could put up with my mood swings?” We laugh together.
     “I love your mood swings.” I kiss him quickly.
     “There will never, ever be anyone else for me. Will you marry me, Sama?”
     My eyes fly open to see him smiling at me. I smile back. “You stole my line.”
     “Say yes.”
     “Hmmm, what will you do if I don’t?” I’m toying with him on purpose.
     He chuckles and throws his leg over me. “Sexually torture you until you do.”
     Zane screams downstairs. I give Vik a look, and he moves his leg. Smiling, I get out of bed. He watches me as I pad over to pick up my discarded clothes. Then, I turn around, dash over to him, lean down, kiss him quickly, and say, “Yes.”

Chapter 20: Emotionally Directed

Yadira

     Rohan has gone to sleep, but having slept most of the day, I’m not tired. I decide to have a look around. It’s very bright out tonight, so I don’t have any difficulty seeing. In fact, if it weren’t for the stars, I might be persuaded to think it was day.
     There were no stars in the Land of Weird. That man called that place where I was so many different names, but I still think of it as the Land of Weird.

     I now remember arriving at the Land of Weird and how I’d worried I might never see the people I love again. That gives me hope. I remember remembering them.
     “Good evenin’, lovely Yadira,” I hear behind me.
     I smile. There’s something about him that makes me want to laugh, and since emotional responses are all I have to go on, I decide that’s a good thing.
     “Hello,” I reply, and he walks to stand in front of me.

     He waits for a moment while we stare at one another. He’s not exactly what I’d call attractive, but somehow, that doesn’t matter.
     His shoulders slump the tiniest amount. “I’m Orion.”
     “Hello then, Ori–” I pause. Again, I’m acting on pure instinct. “No. That’s not your name.” Is he playing a trick on me?
     His mouth drops. “Well, I, er…”
     I start doubting myself. “Is it?” Oh no. I don’t want to insult him.
     “It has been for a good, long while.”
     Oh. Okay. He changed it. “What was it before?”
     “How did ye know that wasna my original name? Rohan doesna even know that.”
     “I have no idea.” And I can honestly say that this isn’t the strangest thing to happen to me today. “So what was it?”

     He gets a goofy expression on his face. “Well, why don’t ye tell me? See if ya can guess.”
     It’s not what he says but how he says it. I start giggling.
     He sighs, looking a bit more content with everything. “At least I can still make ya laugh.”
     It’s true! I knew right away something about him makes me happy. Although, I also sense an ulterior motive. Earlier today, he wasn’t exactly looking at me the way a friend would but rather something more. What happened that he remembers and I don’t?
     “Well, do ye have a guess?”

      I take a breath and close my eyes. Who says I have to wait for Rohan and Yuri, I mean Zuri (the man called her Zuri, right?), to begin trying to figure out what exactly changed about me. I try to clear my head and let something else tell me. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
     “It’s an old name. Rob–” I almost say Robert. “No. Benjamin.” I smile and open my eyes to see him wide-eyed staring at me, his mouth agape.
     “How?”
     “I have no idea. Am I right?” I smile. I don’t really care if I’m right. This is a fun game. I should’ve played it with everyone.

     “You are,” he says slowly. “Yadira, there’s na’a person alive today that knew that.”
     I’m tired of things being weird, so I alter the subject. “Why did you change it? You don’t like it?” Sounds like a nice name to me.
     “I like it fine. I just wanted a fresh everything when I got away from my parents. I didna even want the name they gave me.”
     Parents. I have no idea who my parents were. Rohan said I didn’t know yesterday either.
     It’s driving me crazy how I can’t even remember yesterday! “What did I do yesterday?” The question probably feels random to him. I watch the color drain from his face, and I try to relate it back to our conversation. “How is it that I can tell you your birth name yet I can’t tell you what I did yesterday?” I bite my lip. “How do I know if I’m even me?”
     He takes several shallow breaths. “The fountain… it affects yer mind. It gives as it takes, but… it’s just takin’ yer memories. Yer feelin’s, yer emotions, yer… heart are still the same. If ye stop tryin’ to THINK about yesterdee, can ye FEEL it?”

     “What you’re saying makes sense. Somehow. But… how on earth do I get myself to FEEL yesterday?”
     He glances behind me, takes my hands, and says, “Come here.” He starts pulling me off to the side, closer to a wall. Then he surprises me.

      “Do ye remember now?” he asks, his voice quieter and a tad deeper.
     “What are you doing? Stop it.”
     “I’m tryin’ to shock ya into rememberin’ somethin’. Do yer lips remember?” He kisses me, and one thing’s for sure: I’m definitely shocked.
     I pull back away from him, breaking out of his embrace. I touch my lips. “What are you saying?”
     He takes a step. “I’m sayin’ that yesterdee, I finally got the chance to tell ye I love you.” A look of pain crosses his face. “And now ye don’ even remember!”
     I’ve backed into the wall, and he closes in again.

     I can’t tell for sure if he’s crying because he hides his face in my neck. Still…
     “Are you saying I cheated on Rohan?” I may not remember myself, but that doesn’t feel right.
     “No.” He sniffs. “You were so darlin’. You didna kiss me back, but sweet Mother Earth did I ever kiss you.” He kisses my neck in between little huffing breaths.
     “But I let you.” He’s telling the truth. Going on my feelings, I know it.
     “Yea. Conflicted the entire time, an’ I’m so sorry for that.” He kisses my cheek, and the wisps of hair next to my face stick to him as he moves up to look into my eyes. “Please. Please tell me ye feel SOMETHIN’.”

     My hair frees itself, and I look at his face. His cheeks are damp, so I reach up and try to dry them off with my hand. YES, my heart screams at me. But then why is it also screaming DON’T!?
     He whispers, “Yer still in there.” His eyes close for a moment, and he turns his head to kiss my palm before going back to look into my eyes.
     Why? I ask myself. How could I do this to myself? It’s wrong. “I’m… married.” Right?
     He smiles radiantly. “Yer not.”
     “But Rohan said–“
     “Rohan is a child playin’ ‘house.'”
     “If he’s a child, what am I?”
     He shrugs. “Okay. So play it wiv me.” He leans in and crushes his lips to mine, only for a moment, though. “I love you.”
     Regardless of what I’m feeling, right is right and wrong is wrong. I push him back as I say, “How can you say I’m not married?” I get the feeling he LETS me push him back, and I walk a few steps away. “We said vows.”
     “Vows ye don’ remember sayin’ now.”
     “That doesn’t mean I didn’t say them!” I’ve spun around to argue with him, but he wraps his arms around me again.

      “Yadira, those vows were feeble at best.”
     I can’t breathe without feeling myself do it against him. He’s pulled me tightly to his chest. “You’re making this argument like we’ve argued this before.”
     “We have.”
     “And I didn’t believe it then, did I?”
     He looks at my face, his eyes traveling. “I was tryin’ to convince you.” He pauses. “I canna help but wonder if ye were wiv Rohan ’cause you’d met him first. When I asked ye what would’ve happened had ya met us both at the same time, ye answered ya didn’n know for sure.”
     “Well, I was right. How can I?”
     “Ye can right NOW. Ye don’ remember him any more than ye do me, right?”

     He continues, “As far as yer mind goes, ya met us both today.”
     I was right when my first thought of him was that he was intense. He is, and the surprising way he’s affecting me makes a much more girlie part of me conjure up scenes from some very old romance novel, not that I remember any specifics or that I even read any. I feel ridiculous the though even entered my mind, and I wish that blush wouldn’t show up that’s forming whether I want it to or not.
     “But my emotions are the only thing I have to go on, and my body reacts like I’m in love with Rohan.”
     “But don’ try an’ tell me ye don’ also react to me.” He looks at me like he could eat me alive.

        “Whether or not I do, Benjamin, is not the point.” I don’t miss his sharp intake of breath with hearing me address him by his real name.
     “Oh yes, it’s exactly the point.”

      Damn him! Of COURSE I react to him, but that doesn’t mean I have to act on it. He’s giving me little chance not to, though. How can a kiss be both passionate and tender at the same time?
     I kiss him back.
     He notices, and he breathes in in a kind of victorious way and holds me tighter, if such a thing is possible. The ‘tone’ of the kiss moves from passionate to desperate need in mere seconds, and I know that if I don’t stop it, it will go far beyond just this. And this is bad enough.
     His lips move to my neck, and I beg, “No. Please no, Benjamin.”
     He pulls back, his breathing hard. His self-control balances on a tenuous thread, ready to snap if I give the slightest recant of my ‘no.’

     “Yer the only one,” he tells me, “who calls me Benjamin.” His lips brush mine. “Yer the only one on whose lips it sounds like angels’ wings.” Another soft kiss. “Don’ tell them.”
     “I won’t.” I think of a caveat. “Don’t tell anyone this happened. I don’t… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
     “Deal, but I’m na one for givin’ up, sweet Yadira. Not easily.”
     “I think I’ve noticed that.”
     He starts chuckling, releasing me, stepping back, and kissing my forehead. “Goodnight. I’ll na pester ye anymore tonight.”
     I nod and turn to head back tot he house I share with Rohan.

     I’m in a serious mess. Why did I have to get dropped into this? As if going around memory-blind wasn’t bad enough. I’d thought letting myself be emotionally directed would help. Tuh. Right. Emotionally directed right into a hydrogen bomb.

Chapter 19: Memories

Rohan

     I knew it. I just KNEW it! I knew there was something special about Yadira.

     I didn’t take long to get over my horrible fear that something terrible had happened to her since she’d been missing all night. When she showed up this morning looking the way she did, I found that my wife still had the ability to stun me.

      She didn’t remember me. Or anyone. And that distressed her. Honestly, I’m not too worried. Her memories should come back. She’s still my wife, a woman ten times more amazing than I thought, and I’d already thought she was amazing.

     I know what Zuri was thinking. I know why she would’ve fit in nicely with the Trags. She’s very religious in her own way. It was her influence that made me believe Yadira was a goddess when I first met her. Looking at Zuri’s expression, that’s what she’s thinking.
     Not that I can blame her! All we have to do is LOOK at Yadira to know something happened to her, and the story she’s telling sounds an awful lot like stories Zuri herself told me. I’d never shared any of that with Yadira, the stories, and I doubt Zuri has taken the time to tell her either since she’s been so focused on Asa, her daughter, and Vik with her daughter.
     Orion’s depression barely registers on my radar. Honestly, I don’t care. Yadira is my wife. He can’t have her, and he needs to get over that fact.

     Yadira goes to lie down; Orion mumbles something about fishing; and Zuri tells us she’s going to check on Amina… and Asa. She winks. Poor boy. She’s wearing him out.
     That leaves me standing here alone with Vik. Sama went inside to nurse Zane.

     Honestly, ever since our altercation about Sama, I’ve tried to steer clear of alone time with Vik. The fight may be over, but I’m still on my guard, not knowing if his temper will explode again.
     “We’re in deep shit, Rohan. I need to impress upon you that fact.”
     “Come again?” My wife shows up glowing like the sun, looking more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her, and you tell me we’re in deep shit?
     Is this still about Sama? When will he get it through his head that it was all her idea?
     “For one, haven’t you heard? Reck thinks Amina is his. It’s the reason we left. My life was at stake if he’d found out. He would’ve found some way to do me in.”
     “Right. That’s why you left. How does that put us in deep shit?”

     “Surely he’s not dumb enough to sail this close to winter, but I wouldn’t put it past him to send out scouts.”
     I want to ask him if he’s just being paranoid, but I phrase it differently. “Are you sure he’d go so far as to send out good men looking for who he thinks is his daughter?”
     He looks at me now. “And Zuri.” To answer my knowing look, he says, “You know how he always obsessed over her.”
     I think back. “Ever since that day with the wolves.”

     Reck and I were once friends–of a sort. It was his best mate who died of the poisonous berry, and he sort of went inward after that. Orion would try to draw him out, but all he did was annoy him. Reck would actually listen to ME, and he’d open up. Well, as much as Reck would ever open up.
     Until that day Zuri showed up. While I’d helped Jers down from the tree branch he’d clung to, I watch as my sort-of mate’s eyes glazed over and an obsession took hold. Amazingly, Zuri managed him, taking other lovers as well yet making him feel special. As the years went on, though, I started noticing his anger growing, and when Zuri attempted to seduce ME, I stopped her. Anyone on Reck’s bad side would end up in some kind of miserable state one way or another. Which is why I wound up leaving anyway with him gunning for me ever since seeing Zuri’s apparent interest. And then Vik and Zuri eventually had to leave with Amina–and Orion in their wake.
     And now we’re harboring them.

     “You really think his obsession would take him this far?”
     “Possibly. As far as he knows, we could be anywhere. But the currents…”
     Right. With the global climate changes, the ocean currents changed, making what would’ve been a much longer journey here quite swift by comparison, thanks to the different currents. This little area is sitting smack-dab in the middle of a likely search area. “Fuck.”
     “Exactly. Mind you, I had no intention of dragging you all into this mess, but…” He turns around and looks longingly back at Sama’s house, and I immediately understand. He turns his head back, clears his throat, sees my expression, and continues, “I’ve been working on different ways to hopefully be able to defend ourselves, but I don’t know if we have enough TIME to build the fortifications we might require.”
     “Well, how many would he send? Three? Four? He can’t exactly spare them.”
     “Right. But my latest fear NOW is that someone gets back to him. Look at this place, Rohan.”
     “I know, I know. It still needs work, but–“
     “Look at it, everything, with HIS eyes.”
     I stop and try to do as he asks. It’s a small island, hardly worth the trouble. Surely, the town would have more to offer. I already HAD thought of those things, and that’s why I chose to come here. But now, if word got back to him that Zuri is here, that Amina is here, that the ‘traitors’ Rohan and Orion are here, that the man Vik who he thinks stole ‘his’ woman is here, it’s too tempting a target.
     And once here, he’d see the beauty and untapped richness of the place, something that had been steadily decreasing in his area. My eyes look over our beloved, albeit still messy, settlement, and I land on my small house. And I don’t want to think of what he’d do to everything, and especially everyONE here.
     “Do you see what I’m saying now?”

      Vik sighs. “He wanted to conquer the Trags because he saw them as weak, at least as much as he explained to the council. How much weaker are we when compared to them? By his reckoning, not much.”
     “But this is OUR island.” Fuck, Vik is smart. I think I finally understand where he’s leading the conversation. “You’re saying we need to plant traps and hidden defenses as well as the obvious ones. The ‘home-field advantage.'” We could build underground hiding places as well.
     “Yes, that is obvious. But although he’s not particularly a religious man, if he saw what we saw this morning…” He leaves his statement hanging in the air.
     “He’d try to use that too. Use her.” Holy fucking shit. Yadira’s mysterious transformation may have placed her in more danger than she already was in simply from being beautiful. Reck has always wanted power and whatever tools he can use to gain it.

     Vik and I spend the rest of the daylight hours planning our next steps in future defense of the island and those we love. Having stayed up all night searching in vain for Yadira, I’m tired, but the adrenaline coming from the thought of what Reck might do keeps me awake. As the sun sets, Vik and I return to our loved ones.

     My wife sleeps peacefully, having no idea the dangers out there that want to destroy everything we have. I decide I won’t trouble her with them. She has enough on her plate at the moment.
     “Yadira.” I’m not surprised she’s still asleep. She was gone all night to wherever it was she went. She was exhausted.

     Her eyes open, and she smiles at me, looking like nothing has changed, like she knows who I am. I smile brightly back at her. Then, my spirits sink as I watch the look of confusion take over.
     But did she ACTUALLY remember for a moment?
     I take a resigned breath and have a seat next to her.

      “Did you sleep well?”
     “Yes. I was having a nice dream.”
     I smile. “What was it about?”
     She blushes. “You.”
     YES! “So you… remember me?”
     She looks worried, shaking her head no. “I’m sorry. I’m trying. I really am, Rohan, but I can’t remember anything!”
     Wait a minute…

     “Who told you my name?” In all the confusion from earlier, she never heard my name. I know because that bugged me every once in a while all day when I was working with Vik.
     She looks surprised. “I… don’t know. I thought I already knew it. It was in the dream.”
     I take her hand. “What else was in the dream?” I’m desperate to tell her who I am, what we are, but I want to know what she knows without trying.
     She looks down at her hand in mine and smiles shyly.
     “What did we do in the dream?” True, something happened to her. I don’t know what, but that’s still my Yadira in there.

     “We were… together, and… naked.” She blushes again.
     I grin. “I’m liking this dream already.” I bring her hand to my lips and kiss it. She giggles. I ask, “What were we doing naked?”
     “Probably exactly what you’re thinking. It was daytime, and we were under a propped-up animal skin. I could hear the waves.”
     Our first time. The fountain gave her back our first time. I say a quick prayer of thanks. Quick because I have a more pressing need to kiss her.

      She makes a sound of surprise, but she also doesn’t try to pull away. This tells me a lot. She knows from a dream that we’re something special, but it must feel strange to her to have her ‘dream lover’ suddenly kiss her for what, to her, feels like the first time.
     “I love you, Yadira.” I gently and slowly kiss her face over and over again.
     “I… I know.” She takes a breath. “All I have are emotions, like phantom memories, and I know I love you too.”
     I kiss her harder, making my intent very clear that I want her, but, to her, it still feels like our first time, even with the dream. It was just a dream, after all, even though it probably was accurate. Still, she’s not ready, so I, feeling like I’m back in time to a little over a year ago, don’t push her past making out. While I do, I do my best to remind her of everything we’ve shared: our meeting each other, becoming closer, when I finally kissed her, when we made love the first time (I was right about the dream’s accuracy!), and the fact that we’re married by saying vows to each other before the gods as our witnesses.
     Zuri mentioned Yadira’s memories might come back, and I pray they do. Until then, I’ll enjoy winning her heart all over again.
     I have some rather nice dreams myself tonight.

Chapter 18: The Goddess Yadira

       The sun won’t talk to me anymore, and it kind of hurts my eyes to stare at it. So, I look around me. I’m standing on a beach, and there’s a hill going up from it. I guess I’ll start there.
     It’s not long and I think I see the tops of some buildings. Maybe there are people there and they can tell me who I am. Of course, I won’t know whether or not they’re lying if they do. They could tell me I’m Father Winter, and I wouldn’t know. Not that I know who Father Winter is either. No idea where that came from.
     As I approach, I hear some voices. They’re arguing with one another. My stomach twists in knots. I don’t like this. I could be in danger and not know it.
     Thanks a lot, Mr. Sun, I think sarcastically. With a deep breath, I decide to try and trust these people. Maybe they’re the ones who need me.
     The woman gasps.

      “Yadira!” she exclaims while almost covering her face with her hands. Am I ugly and that’s why she did that? The two men she was talking to stop their conversation and turn to look at me. The man and woman near the house stop what looks like an argument. “Ma dieu, Yadira! What has happened to you?”
     Yadira? I watch her as she races up to me. A blond man follows closely behind her.

      I attempt to answer her question. “I… don’t know.” My few memories of recent events filter in. “I, um, ate the soft nothing and talked to a rock, I mean crystal, and then I drank the wet nothing.”
     “You’re glowing,” the man says, and that makes the woman turn to him very quickly.
     “You can see it too?”
     “Of course I can. Why wouldn’t I?” He looks confused. Something about him makes me feel safe. That’s good.
     The woman says a bunch of things in some weird words to him. I have no idea, but it sounds funny.

      The man is disturbed by my giggling. “What’s happened, Yadira? The dress, that thing in your hair, you’re glowing. Literally.”
     “My name is Yadira?”

      The woman looks concerned. “You… don’t know your own name?”
     The blond man’s face starts to fall; another man walks up with a very intense expression on his face; farther back, a red-haired man looks like he doesn’t trust me. I hear the word ‘demon’ come out quite clearly from what he says to the other woman. She sounds like she’s trying to get him to calm down. I’m not a demon, am I?
     I’m afraid of the red-haired man. “Well, it’s Yadira, right?”

     She’s right. This is weird. How can I not know my own name? Or well, before. I know it now. My mood sinks like a heavy rock.
     The woman sounds sympathetic. “You do not know who we are, do you?”
     My voice is almost a whine. “No.” What’s wrong with me? They all appear to know me. Well, I haven’t decided on the red-haired man yet, but they know me. Or at least someone who looks like me. What if I’m not even me?
     I start crying, and that spurns the blond man to immediately come over and wipe my cheeks.
     “Yadira darling, don’t cry. It’ll be okay.”
     My voice has a kind of hiccup to it. “B-but I d-don’t know wh-who you a-are.”

     “Shh. We’ll figure this out.” 
     I like his hand on my cheek, and that calms me. But the quiet argument near the house is still scary.
     The other man with the intense expression finally speaks, “I have a theory.”
     The woman looks at me as she responds to him. “So do I.”

     Blond man takes my hand as my eyes go back and forth between the woman and the other man. The blond man called me ‘darling,’ and I liked that. Does that mean we’re together? Then why is the other man looking at me like that? “What are they?” I ask them.

     The other man speaks first. “I’m willin’ to bet they’re one in the same.” He lightly nudges the woman in the arm. “She ate.”
     The woman finishes for him. “And drank.”
     “Are the stories true?”
     “I’d thought they were just stories. Allegories.”
     “The fountain of forgetfulness.”
     “It serves other purposes.”
     “But that’s a very noticeable side effect,” he finishes.
     The entire time, the blond man doesn’t say a word. He just keeps holding my hand and staring at me with a lovesick look in his eyes and something else. It’s like… reverent?
     The man and woman back near the building continue to argue. The woman sounds like she’s telling him off.

Orion

     Zuri gives me a knowing look. “It wears off eventually.”
     “We don’t know that.” Stop it, Zuri. It’s like she knows what I’m thinking.
     I can hardly believe my eyes with what’s happened to Yadira. She’s gone from being the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen to being so stunningly gorgeous that I’m having a hard time staying on my feet. And Rohan won’t stop touching her, the very least holding her hand.
     And she doesn’t even remember him!

      “So what’s your theory?” she asks again since we didn’t exactly answer her the first time.
     Zuri turns to me and asks if I can see an aura around her, and I tell her I can. Then she turns back to Yadira. “I don’t know how you did it, but you went to the realm of the gods.”
     “The what?” She gives us an expression like we just told her she’d been standing in applesauce for twelve hours without knowing it.
     I decide to clarify. “Oh, it’s called many things: Heaven, the Nexus, Valhalla, the Elysium Fields, Avalon, Mt. Olympus… Things like that.” I pause. “You say you talked to a rock?”

      Her eyes turn directly to me, and I want to fall to my knees and beg her to remember me, remember what had happened as recently as yesterday evening.
     “It was more like a crystal that looked like it was on fire. It told me I had to use the flower to drink the water from the fountain.”
     Zuri nods. “That sounds like the stories.” She turns to me. “Maybe Sama has a book. Something with folk tales or ancient mythologies, which aren’t as mythical as much as some say.”
     Yadira holds her head for a moment. “You mean the FOUNTAIN made me lose my memories?! Then why did the rock, crystal, tell me to do it?”

      I answer, “Like Zuri said, It has other purposes.”
     “It’s what it gives you in return,” Zuri tells her, “and right now, I can’t say for certain which story about the fountain is true.”
     “Then what about the thing I ate?”
     “It should’ve killed you.”
     “Zuri!” I scold her. The last thing Yadira needs now is something to scare her.
     She looks at me, straight-faced. “Well, obviously it didn’t.”

      Yadira looks to be in shock, in a kind of ‘I’ll process this later’ expression. She sways on the spot, and Rohan reaches out to catch her. He doesn’t need to. She catches herself, but she’s wobbly.
     “Is there somewhere I could go lie down?”
     Rohan takes her hand–again. “Of course. Come with me.” The two of them go into their house, and then Rohan comes back out, walking back over to us. Vik has also joined our conversation. Sama had to go inside to feed Zane.

     I don’t take part, and I barely listen to the conversation going on around me. Zuri’s talking about how she knew there was something different about Yadira. I agree, but I had no idea it was something this massive.
     She is completely and utterly out of my league. Rohan’s too, but I just don’t care about him right now. Zuri throws out the word ‘goddess,’ but I don’t think it’s that high. She’s no ordinary human, though. Vik is worried she’s possessed. Zuri laughs at him.
     All of this happens around me, but I barely hear it. I have to get away from them for now, so I mumble something about needing to go fishing.

     I’m depressed the entire day while Yadira sleeps. It’s not fair. I spent all that time, I did all that work, and for what? For her to forget it all? I spend the rest of the day either fishing or just standing and staring out over the water. Before I know it, the sun has started setting.

     When I go to bed in my ‘new’ structure (a rebuild of what used to be Yadira’s hovel), I wind up tossing and turning, unable to sleep. The moon is bright tonight, so I decide to get some air.

     Then I see her, standing alone and thinking. She’s not glowing as noticeably now, but she’s still stunning. There has to be something still there. I walk towards her.

———————————

A/N: Next chapter we see Rohan’s p.o.v., backing up to just after Yadira appears at the settlement. The chapter after that one picks up where this one leaves off.

Chapter 17: The Land of Weird

Sama

      After I escaped into my house earlier, Vik didn’t follow me. I suppose I can understand why. Really, how many women can say they’ve had a baby yet never been kissed? I didn’t used to let it get to me, trying to be content with having Zane, but I was kidding myself. And earlier, I must’ve looked like a fool.
     I’ve probably scared Vik off. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t bear feeling that stupid!
     The evening arrives, and I’m staring at the useless television set (I’ve only kept it in an attempt to remember life before the end of the plague) when Vik walks in.

     Oh no. Here it comes. He’s finally going to figure out exactly how, in many ways, I’m nothing but a child.
     “Mind if we talk?” he asks.
     “Okay.” Pause. “I mean, yes. I mean, sure, we can talk.” I tense as he sits down next to me. So it’s not that he didn’t want to talk to me, it’s that he was trying to plan ahead with this conversation first.

      “I owe you an apology, first of all,” he begins. “I honestly had no idea.”
     “It’s okay. How could you know?” Why do things have to be weird? I hate this. I strangely want him just to shut up and kiss me again. Then we could forget the strangeness of earlier. But I also understand and appreciate that he wants to clear the air.
     He lets out a sigh of relief. “Exactly. It’s just… Are you really telling me Rohan didn’t kiss you?”

      I pout. I suppose he has a right to know now. “He didn’t. He didn’t even want me. The only way I could make it work was to tell him to think of Yadira.” It was so embarrassing then, but it’s especially now that I have to retell it to Vik. “I was hoping it would only take the one time, and it did.”
     He gets quiet, and I can imagine it’s because he’s deep in thought over what I said. My emotions start at a downward spiral. I, in essence, convinced Rohan against his will. He could’ve easily fought me off, and I don’t know why he didn’t.
     I take a breath, and, not able to stand the silence, I begin talking again. “It’s just that I had a plan. There were the four of us, and I’d thought it would be smarter to…” Oh this is so awkward. “… mix our genetic material as much as possible so the next generation could have the best start possible. I doubt Rohan would’ve stood for a mix with Yadira and Asa, but I’d cross that bridge later if I had to.” I wipe a tear away. “I know, I know. I was stupid. I’d already heard from Rohan himself that there were more people in the world, that this little scheme of mine wasn’t necessary. But as far as I knew, no one else was going to show up.”
     “Sama, why do you view yourself as unattractive?”
     The question takes me by surprise. It’s the last thing I expected him to ask after telling him about my old plan. He must be able to read my expression because he continues.

     “I’m not concerned about the plan you just told me about. It’s a very logical approach, but that’s just it: logical. I admire your shrewd decision making, but how, with all your intelligence, can you not see that you are also someone to be desired?” Anger simmers behind his striking green eyes, and the effect makes my insides shudder–but not in fear. Vik is amazing. All in one person comes someone who does his best to think before acting and speaking yet I feel that is a learned response to the furiously passionate emotions brewing inside him. And right now they’re brewing so closely beneath the surface that should I tap into them, I would be consumed in seconds.
     I need to answer his question. “I never…” heard anyone tell me that before. “Well, I…” never read anyone of my plain description in any of my novels. He might… He might be right? I suppose I have a nice body. After all, the baby weight came off reasonably quickly. My hips stayed wider, but he’s already mentioned how he likes that. My breasts stayed bigger, but that’s because I’m still nursing Zane. But they’re still nice, I guess. I can’t shake that my face seems plain to me, though. But maybe it doesn’t matter what I think. The incredibly-hot redhead next to me thinks I’m beautiful.

      I feel like the clouds of my life have parted, letting in the sun for the first time. “You… You really think I’m beautiful?”
     He relaxes into a soft smile. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Do you finally believe me?”
     I smile back at him. “I’m trying. It’s like a completely new thing for me. I’ve always seen myself as plain.”
     That fire burns in his eyes. “Sama, one day, I will stand you in front of a mirror and explain in great detail exactly how gorgeous you are and what you do to me, but for right now, I’d like to focus on your lips.”

      I expect him to pounce like he’d done earlier today, but he doesn’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s TOO gentle. I could easily pull away, but I don’t want to. His actions don’t really make sense from what I saw a moment ago in his eyes. The only explanation I can achieve is that he’s trying to prove to me that he doesn’t always have to be demanding. Am I weird for wanting him to be?
     Rohan and Zuri (carrying Amina) suddenly walk in, making Vik and me separate like a couple of kids caught by their parents. They see us, and they both start grinning in their own ways. I can’t look to see Vik’s reaction, but I feel my face burning as I get up and set out supper.
     Orion walks in when the rest of us are almost finished eating. He looks in an odd mood, and he merely thanks me and grabs something before walking out again.
     Rohan acts agitated that Yadira hasn’t shown up, and he says he’s going out to look for her.

     Vik helps me put away the leftovers, those that we can save, in our glorified-cupboard-that-was-once-a-refridgerator. As we do, I ponder how intertwined my family really is. I have had Rohan’s child, and Zuri has had Vik’s. Now Rohan and Yadira are together and Zuri and Asa are together. I presume children will come of those unions at some point. The next generation–

     Vik stops my musings. Unlike this morning, I fall right into it. In fact, I fall so into it that I want it to escalate, and he moans when I really start kissing him back. I want to rip his shirt off him. What are we waiting for anyway?
     And I can tell he wants it.

     He suddenly pulls back, panting, and I consider biting his lip. “I should go,” he says quickly between breaths.
     “Why?” I see no reason why he shouldn’t sleep with me.
     He winces. “It’s not like I don’t WANT to stay, but… the last time I just jumped into bed with a woman didn’t end so well for me.”
     Oh. He’s afraid I’ll end up pregnant.
     Maybe he’s not as serious as I thought he was.
     “Okay.” My face must be falling because he feels the need to continue to explain.
     “I want you to know that this is more than lust, Sama. That’s the only reason.”
     What’s the big deal? It’s just sex, right?
     He leans forward and says quietly into my ear, “Tonight, I want you to think about how beautiful you are. Because I know I will.”
     This is crazy. “You could stay.”
     He kisses me again, hard, but I know he’s not convinced. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

**********************

A few hours earlier…

Yadira

     What is happening to me? My body’s gone! I’m floating!?
     I’m flying. Weightless. A glowing speck moving quickly. So fast.

     And then I’m not.
     I don’t know if I land or magically appear…

     …wherever this is.
     Is it nighttime? Daytime? There’s no sun. No moon. I don’t even see any stars!

     “Hello?” My voice echos… kind of. It’s weird.
     What happened to me? This is like from that book I read. Sama said it was science fiction. I didn’t really understand it then, and I certainly don’t understand this now.
     Am I on some kind of alien planet? Well, at least I can breathe. I look around. There’s a floating island in the distance. That’s weird.
     Did I eat some kind of poisonous mushroom?
     Am I dead?
     Just as soon as I start to panic that I’ll never see Rohan or anyone I love again, I feel myself getting whisked away once more. I sense my body this time, even if I don’t feel it. It’s like I materialize somewhere else, and all I can see is a hand in front of me.

     “Eat this.”
     “Why?” I ask.
     Then I hear another voice; it sounds raspy and old. “She’s not ready.”
     The first voice speaks again. It sounds like a younger man. “Yes, she is.”
     I can’t turn my head, but I can move my hand to take the shiny thing. So I do. It strangely feels like a soft… nothing. I bring it up to my face.
     “Go ahead,” the friendlier voice urges. “It will help you.”
     EAT the shiny soft nothing? Is it even possible?
     “She doesn’t know how,” raspy voice says.
     What does it mean I don’t know how? I’ll show it!
     So I do. At first it tastes soft. Then it tastes like nothing. DID I eat it?
     “Good,” the friendly voice says, and I get whisked away again.

     “Okay. This is getting old,” I say to no one… or whoever is listening. I SENSE someone, or something, is nearby. Like everything else here (wherever here is), it’s weird.
     So where did I get plopped down now?

       I feel drawn to a kind of glowing rock, like it’s on fire. “Pretty.”
     “Thank you.”
     “AH!” I cry out and jump back, almost tripping on this dress I just realized I’m wearing. I don’t know which to be more shocked about: my sudden makeover or the fact that a ROCK just spoke to me in my head.
     “I prefer crystal to rock if you don’t mind.”
     “Okay. A rock with an attitude.” I pause and then quickly correct myself. “Crystal. Sorry.” Did I just apologize to a rock… crystal?
     “Apology accepted.”
     “Um, thanks.” When does it stop being weird? Maybe I’m dreaming. That’s probably it. I sigh with relief. It’s a dream.
     “You’ve eaten. Now have something to drink.”
     “Okay?” Whatever. “Where?”
     “Behind you. The fountain.” Did it just point? It doesn’t move, but I’m sure I sensed a pointing from it. This has got to be the most bizarre dream I’ve ever had.
     “Okie dokie.” That’s it. If this isn’t a dream, I have completely lost my mind.

      The water looks clean enough. I dip my hand in it. It feels like nothing is there. Of course. Why should it? With a sigh, I gather some water, cupping my hand to bring it to my lips, but as soon as my hand leaves the water, it’s empty. And dry.
     With a scowl, I try again. Nothing.
     “How am I supposed to do this?”
     “With the lily flower, of course.”
     “Oh. Right. Of course.” Why not? Dream logic after all. Wearing a kind of miffed and dubious expression, I gather water in the flower. This time it doesn’t disappear when I bring it away from the fountain, and I drink.
     It tastes wet. And like nothing.
     “Good.”
     Before I can respond, I’m whisked away. Again.

      Only this time I’m falling. Fast. They dropped me! I’m going to die!

      I hear my breathing. I feel sand under my feet. I’m no longer falling.

      “What was all that about?” I ask no one.
     “Go home. They need you.”

      Did the sun just talk to me? “Wait. Who are you?”
     I get no answer.
     “Hello?”
     Humph. Guess whoever it was clammed up. I look around. ‘Go home,’ it said. Wait. Where is that? Who needs me?
     Who am I?

—————————————-

A/N: I apologize profusely about our journey into the land of weird. This has been planned since chapter 2, but more stuff than I expected got in the way. I promise I’ll keep the weirdness down to a minimum. Well, I’ll try.

Chapter 16: Love Language

Vik

      I can’t win. I did nothing wrong. Well, mostly. I suppose I might’ve done SOMETHING wrong. I’m lost as to what, though, and with the lack of anyone else to talk to about it, I turn to Zuri for advice.

      She, of course, is thrilled I came to her for relationship advice, exclaiming how happy she is in her high-pitched, schoolgirl way. I fight back my eye-roll.
     “You have to learn to ‘speak her language,'” she advises, not helping.

      “What are you talking about? Of course I speak her language.”
     I used to think it was neat how the dumbest things could be funny to her. It was lust, nothing more. Now, her laugh is annoying.
     “I’m not talking about English.” She giggles again. “No no no no no. I mean her,” she thinks, “her love language.”
     “I have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.” If I weren’t so irritated, I might be able to figure it out.

      “They are the little things that are how a person shows love and how they receive love the best. It could be words. Or touching. Or gifts. Or maybe some combination or something like those. Once you figure that out, it makes someone much easier to win.”
     I scowl for two reasons. One: this explains to me more how Zuri thinks with that whole ‘winning’ thing. Two: what she said makes sense.
     She smiles and pats my arm. “You’ll figure it out.”
     I nod thoughtfully as she giggles at me and saunters off. Well, Sama wouldn’t let me kiss her, but does that rule out touching? I tried to tell her WITH WORDS how beautiful she is, and she didn’t believe a word of it. I sigh. I guess gifts is worth a try.
     After rummaging around the stuff from the mainland and changing my clothes, I find something I was going to give her anyway. I may as well try to make a production of it. I smirk. I even have the perfect box.

     I catch her as she leaves her house. “Here,” I say awkwardly. “I, er, got you something.”
     At least she smiles. “Vik, what is this?”
     “Just open it.”
     She does, and she smiles in a very surprised way when she sees the knit top and pants. Like I said, I was going to give it to her anyway. The days are getting colder at an almost-alarming rate. Soon, it will be too cold for her to be wearing what she’s wearing. Not that I’d mind.
     After some urging on my part, she dashes inside to go try them on.

     She looks beautiful. I’d not known she’d had warmer shoes, and I’m glad when I see them.
     A smile blesses her face. “I feel so… so… normal!” She giggles. “I look like I’m ready to go off to college.”
     Honestly, I’d rather see her with much less clothing, but at least the top isn’t so bulky that it would hide her curves. I’m glad it doesn’t.

       “You look beautiful,” I tell her honestly and dare her to contradict me.
     Her expression certainly does, but instead of outright arguing with me, she says, “The sleeves are a little short.”
     “No they’re not. I bet they’re supposed to be like that.”
     “They ARE too short. Look.” She holds up her wrist then gasps when I grab it and kiss the inside of it.
     “I like it short then. I’m telling you, you look beautiful.”

     “Vik, stop it.” She doesn’t look angry. More sad than anything. That almost makes ME angry.
     “No. I’m not going to stop saying it. Not at least until you believe me.” I shrug. “And I probably won’t stop saying it then either.”
     “It’s not very nice.”
     What the fucking hell? “How is it not nice?”
     “Because you’re lying.”
     I have to take a deep breath to control the immediate anger. “I’m. Not. Lying.”
     “Stop feeling like you have to tell me that. I’m not one of those women who has to hear it.”

      “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you like me, right?” I’m determined to kiss her this time. She was a little too good at getting away from me the last times I tried. I’m going to have to surprise her.
     After biting her lip for half a second, she answers, “Yes.”
     My mood lifts like a rocket shooting into the sky. “Then you’re just going to have to get over it, Sama. I say you are. Don’t insult my intelligence.” I pounce before she can try and duck away again.

      I have to hold the back of her head while she makes a startled noise, realizing her escape attempt didn’t work. Then she hits my back with the heel of her hand. But her lips are kissing me. With anyone else, I wouldn’t dare try this, but I think I’ve figured out I have to fight Sama for Sama.
     Maybe her love language is fighting. That thought cracks me up, and I start laughing into her mouth. Even though milliseconds ago she’d started to soften, she stiffens up again and makes an angry noise.
     She quickly pulls back even though I still hold onto her. “You ass! You’re laughing at me?”
     “Only because you’re so fucking wonderful.” I reclaim her mouth, and she hits my back again. But she doesn’t jerk back even though she’s proven she can.
     She wants me to fight for her; good thing I’ve figured out I’m the sort of man who loves that.
     It’s wonderful. She kisses me back even though I can tell she’s still nervous. Well, that part’s not wonderful. The fact that I found her is wonderful.
     IS it nerves? Why? It’s like she’s never been kissed before. I can’t stand not knowing, so I let up on her.

      She must be able to read my expression. “Vik, you can’t just… KISS me like that.”
     “Why not?” I watch her face get rosier. “It’s not like it was your first kiss.”
     She attempts to step away, looking down in an embarrassed way. What? Shit!
     With a slow nod, she replies, “And my second.”
     “But… How? I mean… You have Zane!” Is she trying to tell me Rohan didn’t kiss her?
     She pulls away, taking advantage of my shock. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She backs up. “I was stupid.” Then she turns and dashes into her house, leaving me standing here completely gobsmacked.

Orion

      I’m out clearing an area that would make a good off-site settlement (at least that’s how Sama puts it) when I see a flash of white in my peripheral vision. Turning my head, I see it’s Yadira. She doesn’t know I’m here. I’m guessing she’s collecting herbs; plenty of useful ones grow at the cliff’s edge.

     She’s wearing a dress Rohan made for her from a sail. He designed it to have a very low V in the front, on purpose of course, and I must admit, I’m grateful for my own sake.
     I call out her name, not wanting to be accused of sneaking up on her.
     Please, don’t be an idiot, I beg myself.

      To answer her look, I say, “I was working in this site just now. I saw ye an’ decided it would be rude not to say anything.”
     I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid being an idiot completely. The fact that I know hers and Rohan’s relationship is strained doesn’t help me. Well, maybe it does, but I’m afraid I’ll mess this whole thing up. I can’t just NOT speak to her, though.

      She’s on her guard. “Sometimes it’s best if things remain unsaid.”
     I let out a nervous laugh. “Well, I still wanted to come an’ talk to ya.”
     “You’ve been doing nothing but try to wreck my relationship with Rohan. I don’t have to listen to what you say.”
     “Not even if I’ve come t’apologize?”
     She pauses.

     I take this chance. “Believe me, Yadira. I had no intention of hurtin’ yer feelin’s. I hated that. Please forgive me.” I fight hard to keep my eyes on her face.

      She’s quiet for a moment before she asks, “And?”
     I blink. “And what?”
     “And are you sorry for saying my marriage isn’t real.”
     Here we are. Time to be a complete arse. “I’m not… sorry for that.”
     “How can you say that? Of course we’re married!”

       “There was no one officiating. Therefore, it’s not official.” I glance down; I can’t help myself.
     “Well, what else were we supposed to do? We didn’t exactly have that option.”
     I hold up my hands. “Oh sure, I understand what yer sayin’. And I think, seriously, that it’s sweet how ye two said vows to one another, but in the real world, that doesna hold water.”
     She folds her arms and looks away. That act pushes her breasts together.
     I step a tiny bit closer and say quietly, “Ye know I’m right. It’s how it’s always been. Sure, the world is different now, but–“
     “I don’t remember anything of the world before.” She sees I’ve gotten closer and takes a step back.

      “You don’t?” I’m surprised. “Nothing?” Reality starts slamming into me with the force of two freight trains colliding. She remembers nothing because she was too young. That puts her at… fuck! I knew she was young, but I’d thought maybe twenty, not that she looked it, but… whoa.
     While my thoughts swirl in my mind, she’s explaining how she was only maybe two at the end of the plague when Asa found her. The plague was about a decade and a half ago. That puts Rohan about ten years older than her, and me… I’m far too close to twice her age.

      She keeps talking while my conscience tries to destroy me. “I know the world used to have lots and lots of people in it, but where were we going to find anyone to do that? We certainly couldn’t sail off to the Skeeves.” No, I never want Reck to so much as glance at her. “So why can’t you just let it go?”

     “Because I adore you, Yadira!” I pronounce as clearly as possible. “Isn’n it plainly obvious?” Our ages be damned. I hate how she backed away some more, putting her hand on my arm, probably seeing my intent to wrap it around her.
     “I didn’t think you’d actually say it,” she replies quickly and quietly.
     “What would’ve happened had ye met ME first?” If I’d known such an angelic creature existed and all I had to do was cross the ocean to find her, I would’ve swam across if there were no other way. I know it may sound childish, but it’s not FAIR that Rohan got to her first, that Rohan was the ‘new and interesting person.’
     “I… I don’t know.”
     That’s all I needed to hear. If she’d even hinted that there still would’ve been nothing between us, I’d go off somewhere with a broken heart, but that’s not what she implied. I am now desperate to wrap my arms around her.
     She bolts. For half a moment, I consider letting her go, but I can’t leave this scene like that. I charge after her and catch up with her in the abandoned site, grabbing her and spinning her around to face me. In her fear, she tries to lash out at me.
     I easily dodge and deflect her strikes before catching her wrists. I need to get her to calm down. We need to discuss her ‘I don’t know’ response. “I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

      “Then why are you trapping me?” Her expression rips me in two.
     “I dinna want this conversation to end like that.” I take a few breaths. “I canna bear you hatin’ me.”
     “I don’t hate you, but you’re not making it easy for me.”
     Leave her be, Orion. No. I can’t. If I do, I’ll always wonder ‘what if’ until it drives me mad. I whisper, “I’m sorry to do this to ya.”
     I look into her eyes, and I see the anguish of a young woman who doesn’t understand herself. She sees the honest sympathy in mine, and she collapses into her hands.

       I hold her shoulders while she cries, but what I really want to do is coil my whole self around her to protect her from… men just like me. How’s that for irony? I don’t want to do this to her, but I more don’t want to leave this avenue unexplored.
     “You know,” she sniffs, “when you first got here, I thought you were the funniest-looking, strangest, most unattractive man I’d ever seen.”
     I softly chuckle in spite of everything. I DID look quite a sight.
     She continues, “But then you were REALLY GOOD at telling a story, even if you were being an ass to Rohan when you told them.”
     Jealousy. Plain and simple. I rub her arms in a comforting way. Fuck, her skin is so soft, and I’d not realized my face was resting on her hair until I move. It’s all I can do not to moan.
     “And then you were an ass to ME, telling me my marriage wasn’t real. Real or not, I love him.”
     “I love you,” I whisper.
     She moves her hands so she can hit my shoulder, but it feels to me like about as much force as a puppy might use. “Why did you have to ask me that?”

     I finally touch her face, what I’d wanted to do since the moment I first saw her. She’s so perfect that there are moments when I wonder if she’s even real. “Ask you what?”
     “The ‘what if I met you first’ thing.”
     My other hand starts running through her fantastic hair. “Because it’s something I often wonder.”
     “Well I hadn’t… until you asked that. Now you’re making me question everything. And that’s not very nice of you.”
     She’s questioning everything, the best news I’ve had in ages. This is exactly what I needed to happen, just to get her to ponder a different choice.
     I need her lips on mine, and I wrap my arm around her waist in preparation. “Sorry for being an arse.”
     She realizes my current goal, and her eyes widen. “I can’t cheat on Rohan.”

      I’m millimeters from her lips. “It’s only cheating if you kiss me back.” If someone had told me when I woke up this morning that I would finally be kissing the lovely Yadira, I would’ve laughed in his or her face. But the fact is, I am. I have to hand it to her, she tries not to kiss me back. I don’t mind. I can do plenty of kissing for the both of us.

       I pull up slightly, opening my eyes just enough. Her quick breath comes out in swift, little breezes of air, her lips slightly parted. She thinks I’m done. Not yet.
     My jaw pressed against her, I open hers and kiss her harder, taking temporary ownership of this beautiful woman’s mouth. She lets out a precious sound of futility. She may call me funny-looking, but now she also knows I can kiss like a raging thunderstorm. I have no idea whether or not she kisses me back; I won’t give her a chance.
     Her moan is begging me in the most adorably pitiful way for me to stop. She fought so hard not to kiss me back, and she mostly succeeded.
     I’ve pushed too far already, so I stop, keeping my arms around her for now.

       Leave him. We’ll move here. It’s a decent structure. I’ll give you the child Rohan hasn’t. I’m twice the man he is.
     “Whatever it is you’re thinking, I can’t.” She shakes her head no. “I love him.”
     So I haven’t won… yet.

Yadira

      This is too much. Orion is too intense. I think I may have actually kissed him back for moment, and I feel terrible that I let any of it happen in the first place. My head is still spinning that it happened at all. It was that damn ‘what if’ question.
     “Okay,” he whispers. I expect him to let me go, but he doesn’t.
     He does allow ME to step back, though, and I do. So why do I feel guilty for stepping away from him? It’s almost the same level of guilt that I kissed him. Or allowed him to kiss me. I’m so confused!
     I have to put distance between us. Now.

      I feel like the lowest, rotting piece of scum on the planet. How could I let that happen!? And it’s making me question how I feel about Rohan. That shouldn’t happen!
     I just need a little clarity. I stop at the beach and stare out over the sea.

————————————————

A/N: BTW, it’s not aliens. I just borrowed their SpFX.

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