It was only right, Gareth mused tiredly, that his final thoughts be of Raenia. After all, she was fated to suffer even more terribly than he would. He wondered if she would be watching tomorrow when they killed him.
Gareth remembered, with unspeakable regret, when he had made love to her. That night, Gareth had been drinking at Dolbrek’s, as he did most every night after work. He had been watching the people pass like shadows outside the window, cupping his mug in his hands, and remembering the war. He had only been back a couple of months, and life in his quiet village still seemed surreal and foreign.
Chimes rang cheerfully as a patron entered. It was a girl Gareth had never seen before, dark-haired with a round, lively face and a wide, laughing mouth. She sauntered to the bar, and ordered a mug of mulled wine from Dolbrek, wearing a crooked smile. Gareth watched her with curiosity. The girl had a certain quality that attracted him.
To Gareth’s surprise and chagrin, the girl took her drink, met his gaze, and headed in his direction. He looked around from side to side, in a way she must have found comical, trying to figure out who she was walking towards.
Oh fuck, Gareth thought when he realized, at the last second, that she wanted to sit with him.
“Hi, Gareth!” she said with such enthusiasm that Gareth felt sorry for her. Who, he wondered, could have such a sad life that they’d feel excited to talk to him. She sat on the table, and Gareth couldn’t help noticing her voluptuousness. Shit, he thought, I’m not getting out of this conversation.
“Uh.” he said. “Hello?”
“Good to see you! It’s been a while.”
“I guess it must have been,” said Gareth. “Do I know you?”
“Raenia!” she laughed, and she shook her head at him admonishingly. “You don’t have a very good memory, do you? You shod my horse! We talked!”
“When?” he asked, searching his memory frantically.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, sipping her wine and holding a finger to her mouth thoughtfully, “two years ago? A bit longer?”
“Two years?” said Gareth, incredulous. “A lot’s happened since then. Sorry.” He hoped this girl would leave him alone soon.
“I know,” she said, slamming her drink on the table dramatically and leaning her grinning face closer to Gareth’s. “You went to war– how was it? Was it just awful? You can tell me! I’m all ears. Seriously. I’m entirely made of ears.” She laughed loudly at her own joke.
Annoyed, Gareth decided to cut this conversation short. “Look, girl, you’re drunk, and I don’t feel like talking. So, can I just have my drink in peace?”
“Gareth!” Raenia said, drawing his name out into a long whine, “I saw you watching me! You know I just got here, so you know I’m not drunk. I’m just this naturally humorous and charming. It’s a quality in a woman you could use. Evaluate yourself honestly. Because, while the brooding handsomeness is working in your favor, you’ve got to know you’re a bit cheerless, right?”
Gareth sighed audibly, his face red. He couldn’t think of what to say, so he decided to just ignore her.
Raenia sighed as well. She got up from her seat on the table, and sat down on the bench across from Gareth. She folded her hands on the table and rested her chin there. She looked up at him with large, black, thickly lashed eyes, imploringly. “Oh, come on, kid,” she said in a softer voice. (I’m older than her, Gareth thought) “I’m sorry. Really. I know my personality can be grating to a guy like you, but I promise, I’m nice. And I really like you, a lot.”
Gareth looked at her. She was pretty. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Raenia smiled. “You’re very handsome.”
“What? Why do you keep saying these things?”
Raenia pulled a comical face. “Why do I keep saying these things to you?” she repeated. “Hasn’t anyone ever took time from their day to just tell you nice things?”
“I think that’s very sad.” Raenia stopped for a moment and sipped her wine, not moving her eyes from his. “Gareth?” She paused. “Gareth? Gareth?”
“Oh, Goddess, what?”
“You know, I think it’s a good step that you’re being so mean. When I met you, you seemed like the type to not tell anyone they were bothering you, even if they were really grating your nerves.”
“Well, you have a talent.”
“Oh, I have many. But really, Gareth?”
“I said, what?”
“Has anyone ever kissed you?”
Gareth looked extremely uncomfortable now. He fidgeted with his sleeve and looked out the window. Finally, through gritted teeth, he said, “Yes.”
“Oh, really? I wouldn’t have guessed that. Who?”
“Just– someone. Someone I met during the war.”
“Aaah,” said Raenia knowingly. “Some foreign girl? Good for you, Gareth!”
“But she’s not here is she?”
“Well, then.” Raenia clasped her hands together, business-like. “Would you, Gareth Tehngir, like to kiss me?”
Gareth laughed. “Raenia, really. What about this conversation has led you to believe that I’d want to kiss you?”
“Well, I just made you laugh. I’m going to hazard a guess that that doesn’t happen too often.”
She had a point, Gareth thought. In all honesty, he was enjoying her attention, which he found quite flattering, even if he didn’t know how to respond to it. But he had known since she’d first started talking, given that subtlety obviously wasn’t one of her many gifts, that Raenia was flirting with him, and he didn’t like where it was going.
Gareth had grown up with girls, and women. He was surrounded by them at every moment of every day. He’d seen the girls swim naked in the fountain on hot summer afternoons, he’d braided their hair, he’d seen the priestesses, a few times, walk about in their thin night-things on balmy nights, their breasts visible through the material as they leaned over his bunk to administer his medicine. Gareth had never really thought anything of this, or taken particular notice of the females around him.
When Gareth left the Priory, and began to make tentative friendships with other boys, they all asked him questions about growing up with all these women, and Gareth slowly realized that they thought he should have been more attentive to these pleasures. It was hard for him to understand, so Gareth began to feel like there was something wrong with him. He had read, in the Priory’s library, about men who scorned the company of women, and chose, instead, to love other men. Gareth wondered, fearfully, if he was like that, and hoped it wasn’t true. Tehngah’s law was that such behavior was only permitted during times of poverty or famine, when having more mouths to feed would be more of a burden than a blessing. Otherwise, it was forbidden– it was a man and a woman’s duty to marry and have children, and to spread Tehngah’s law. The penalty for a man loving a man was death. The thought of being put to death filled Gareth with trepidation.
As he grew up, though, Gareth’s fears became realized. He noticed the boys around him with admiring eyes, the way the other boys noticed girls. It didn’t matter, Gareth told himself– if he ignored his feelings, they wouldn’t affect him. He ignored his feelings all the time, so this wouldn’t be very different.
Of course, Gareth had been wrong about that.
Raenia sighed. For the first time that night, she looked defeated. She tugged at her thick, curling hair self-consciously. “Alright, Gareth. Really, I’m sorry I bothered you. You just seemed– nice. But not so nice that you’re boring, you know? And quite good looking. So, I figured– eh, I just wanted someone to be with tonight, and I thought of you.”
Gareth watched her, torn.
His thoughts turned to Corrin, remembering how they’d cradled each other at night in their bunker, as they listened fearfully for approaching danger. How he’d run his thumb across the soft bloom of Corrin’s pale lips while the snow fell silently all around. The way his skin burned where Corrin had touched him under his coat, and of biting the hollow of Corrin’s neck and crying silently against him, as he ran his hand over Gareth, stirring him to a state of unknowing, unreasoning ecstasy.
But, Gareth thought, mentally shaking himself from his voluptuous musings, the war was over. He and Corrin would not be together, and he, Gareth, was almost twenty, and expected to marry soon. Maybe he should see what it was like, to be with a woman. He wouldn’t be able to avoid it forever.
“Don’t be sad, Raenia,” he said, unsure of how to be flirtatious, “It’s– weird.” His face got very red, but he drove onward. “We could– I mean– sure. Kiss. Whatever.” Gareth looked at the ceiling in a gesture of helplessness. “I feel strange. I don’t know what to do. Is it normal for girls to act this way?”
“You know, I really don’t think so, Gareth. Not at all. I wouldn’t even, normally, but, don’t think about it too much! ‘Cause you’re lucky!”
Gareth wondered what Raenia meant, and what was making her behave so strangely, but he decided not to ask. “So. Should we– do you want to go somewhere in particular?” Two unbetrothed young people kissing, while not illegal, was something that was heavily frowned upon in Grel.
“Yeah, there’s a grove of apple trees on my land, that’s not far from here. Shall we?” Raenia beamed sweetly.
So, she’s rich, thought Gareth, as he rose from the table to leave with Raenia.
“Aren’t you a gentleman!” she said loudly. “Well, bye, Gareth! It was good to catch up!” She raised an eyebrow at him as she walked lightly out the door. Gareth mentally smacked himself. Of course, they couldn’t be seen leaving together.
He sat back down and finished his beer slowly, as he usually did, still in shock. It was strange, he thought, that this evening had started out like any other, but had taken such a turn. Gareth tried not to think too much about what was going to happen. He couldn’t really imagine it, and merely hoped it wouldn’t be awful.
Presently, he rose from his seat and headed out the door into the bitter, smoky autumn air. Gareth didn’t see Raenia immediately, but, figuring she had some sort of plan devised, he continued slowly down the road, the way he normally went home. Sure enough, a little ways on, Raenia scampered in front of him, with a jaunty wave.
“Hullo!” she said in a staged whisper, giggling. Gareth smiled shyly. Raenia took his hand and backed against his chest, bringing his palm against her breast. The bottom of her head barely touched Gareth’s chin. Raenia pointed her face up towards his, and he looked down into her shining eyes. He had to hand it to her; Raenia was very well-studied in the art of cuteness. “Come on!” she said, in the same comical voice. She slung Gareth’s arm over her shoulder, took his large hand in both of her little ones, and, goose-stepping merrily, led him down a path through the trees.
Once they were well into the little wood, Raenia stopped him. “Here, we are, Gareth,” she said, turning around girlishly to face him.
Gareth kicked some rotten apples across the grass, nervously.
“This sure is far to go for one kiss,” Raenia said. Gareth had to agree. “I hope you’re good!”
With a sickly swoop of in his gut, Gareth decided to get the thing done with. He leaned in toward her face, but Raenia held her hand up.
“What?” said Gareth, raising his voice. This was too much.
“Sssh!” said Raenia, suddenly serious. “We don’t want anyone to hear.”
Gareth nodded, and Raenia quickly pulled her smile back up. “Aren’t you going to talk to me first?” she pouted.
“Talk?” said Gareth, nonplussed. “What do you want me to say?”
“It wouldn’t mean anything if I told you, would it?” Raenia looked at him thoughtfully. “Here, let me tell you what. We don’t have much time, so tell me one thing about yourself that no one else knows, and then tell me the thing you like best about me. Then we can kiss! Got it?”
Gareth briefly entertained the thought of telling Raenia about Corrin, which seemed oddly hilarious, then quickly realized that this was seriously going to happen, and panicked. What would he tell her?
“Here,” said Raenia, “I’ll go first.” She took Gareth’s hand in both of hers and gave it a small kiss. “Something no one else knows about me. Hmm. I guess– you really can’t tell anyone about this, got it?– I don’t believe in Tehngah. The thought of this all-powerful Goddess sitting around in heaven, able to do, literally, anything– and what she really cares about is watching us humans, making sure we don’t swear, that we don’t spread our legs for the wrong type of guy, that we don’t eat deer, or that we wash our hands a certain way, or else– that just makes me think, well, that there’s no way. Absolutely not. So, sorry if that bothers you.”
Raenia gave a deep sigh. “It sure felt good to say that! I’ve been holding that in for a while.” She made little circles with her hips, still holding Gareth’s hand and looking into his eyes with a smile, half sweet, half impish. “And now,” she said, raising her hand to Gareth’s cheek, “What I like best about you, Gareth Tehngir.” Her smile softened, and Gareth couldn’t help smiling back. Surprisingly, her touch made his heart flutter pleasurably. Gareth savored the tingling feeling that coursed up and down his spine.
Raenia took a deep breath. “What I like about you, Gareth Tehngir, is that I can sense that you’re the sort of person who wouldn’t care that I don’t believe in Tehngah. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think I am. Do you know how rare that is, Gareth? Everyone in Grel is so fucking caught up in that ridiculousness, but you, you were raised by those people, and you still had enough brains not to buy into it. You’re smart. You definitely think for yourself, and you don’t feel the need to parade it in everyone’s face. You just go along with your life, and ignore everyone else. You probably have all these thoughts and observations, all these secrets, but no one to share them with. I like that. I like looking at you and imagining what you’re thinking. You know, I’m pretty good at reading people; I just understand them. But you– I can make a pretty good guess at what’s going on behind that handsome face, sometimes, but usually I can’t. You’re inscrutable, and I like that.”
Gareth’s face burned scarlet; he couldn’t believe anyone had taken that much time to think about him and his inner thoughts.
Raenia’s smile broadened. “Pretty good, right? I can feel you blushing!” She tapped his cheek with her palm. “So now you owe me something nice, Gareth. I said a bunch more than I had to, and that’s not even counting the nice things I said to you at Dolbrek’s, or subtracting for the mean things you said to me!”
Gareth laughed. It was starting to feel easier to talk to Raenia and, for the first time that night, he felt glad that she had decided to single him out at Dolbrek’s.
“Well. You’re right. I don’t believe in Tehngah, but don’t worry, I know that you won’t count that as my secret. I’ll try to tell you something you didn’t already guess.” Gareth paused to gather his thoughts. “My secret is, that– I mean, you see me. I go around, I give people the impression that I’m indifferent to them. But I’m not. Not– yeah. I want people to like me, but– I just feel, separated? Separated from them, by glass, or something. So, I just keep to myself, and I get used to feeling invisible. And, I suppose I started to like it that way, because I got used to it, and I don’t like for things to change.” He finished his words in a rush, surprised that he’d said what he did.
“I’m sorry,” said Raenia.
“Nah,” said Gareth. He looked at the ground. “Alright. Then, what I like best about you–”
“–Put your hand on my cheek, Gareth, like I did for you!”
Gareth lifted his hand to Raenia’s rosy, full face, carefully tracing his thumb across her cheekbone. He could hear her breath catch in her throat. “What I like best about you, Raenia I-don’t-know-your-surname, is this: You’re kind to me.” Gareth’s blush deepened. “Plenty of people are kind in a polite, meaningless sense. You aren’t polite. At all. But you seem nice in a way that counts. You– pay attention to people. You–” Gareth shrugged sheepishly, as if in apology for his saccharine words, “You saw me for who I was. I really, really don’t know how or why you did. But, Raenia, that means– just– so much to me. You’re surprising. I still can’t believe that we’re having this conversation, and that I’m saying these things. But I like it. Really. Thank you.”
Gareth couldn’t remember the last time he’d strung that many words together. He felt exhausted, so he just smiled down at Raenia.
“Kiss me,” she reminded him in a whisper.
Gareth put his arm around Raenia’s waist and pulled her close against him. He embraced her for a moment, tightly, and then he put his hand under her chin and tipped her face towards his. Her face was milky in the moonlight, and her dark waves of hair moved delicately in the light autumn breeze. “You’re beautiful,” he said, feeling like she should know that he thought so, and he ran his fingers lightly over her pale, extended throat. Gareth leaned in to kiss her on the mouth but, instead his lips found the round tip of Raenia’s chin. He opened his mouth and bit it, lightly as he could. Both of them shuddered.
“Woah, Gareth,” breathed Raenia.
“Raenia,” Gareth murmured, as he moved his hand through her thick cloud of hair. He tipped his face so his mouth touched Raenia’s softly. He closed his lips around her protruding bottom one, and kissed it. Raenia was breathing heavily, now, and moving her hands up and down Gareth’s back. Finally, Gareth kissed her full on the mouth, deeply, and he felt his whole body tense with pleasure.
He let his joy crest over him in waves. This girl, he thought, was so beautiful, and so kind. Her soft body against his felt like a miracle. As he kissed her, Gareth tried to say all of that to her, and more, so she could feel his love and gratitude in a way deeper than his words could communicate.
“Raenia,” he said again, his lips still on hers; his tongue moving inside her mouth.
Finally, Gareth pulled back, wanting to breath, and wanting to see her face again. Raenia’s eyes were wide. “That felt so nice!” Gareth exclaimed, and he immediately laughed sheepishly. Why did he have to say that?
Through his happiness, Gareth felt some strains of confusion. Why, he wondered, had he enjoyed kissing Raenia, when she was a woman? Gareth had never heard of someone who felt attraction to both men and women. Gareth mentally shrugged, and brought himself back to the moment. He could puzzle those questions out later.
“You sound surprised!” Raenia chided him, still catching her breath. “But honestly, Gareth, that was a bit more than what I expected!”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, probably not.”
Gareth pulled back, and the two looked at each other awkwardly for a few moments.
Finally, he said, “Do you want to, well, kiss some more?”
“Yes, of course!” said Raenia. “I just wanted you to be the one to suggest it, oh bashful one.”
Gareth threw his arms around Raenia, and lifted her up by grabbing her under the arms, so her face was level to his. He moved his hands, grabbing her securely with both arms so he could hold her against himself comfortably. “Could you kiss me?” Gareth asked her, and Raenia smiled and nodded. She locked her knees around his hips. She grabbed Gareth by back of his hair, and pulled her face to his, kissing his mouth over and over with enthusiasm.
This was different, Gareth thought, from how things had felt with Corrin. The two friends had never talked much, unsure of how put into words what they felt for one another. They had never had the chance to love each other freely, like this. Every moment the pair of soldiers had managed to steal together had been illicit, under the constant threat of danger and discovery, when they could scarcely move, nor make a noise.
It felt amazing to be able to touch Raenia any way he’d like to– so liberating that it dizzied Gareth. With Raenia’s limbs still locked around him, and still kissing her wildly, Gareth stumbled over to the large tree a few feet away. He shoved her roughly against it, so he could push his body closer and closer against hers. Gareth pried Raenia’s arms from around his neck, and she slowly let go and slid back down to the ground. Gareth pushed up on Raenia’s chin, exposing her elegant, pale neck. He kissed her there, on the throat, and then on the spot where he could feel her life’s blood pulsing within her. Gareth thought, as he did this, tracing her artery with his tongue, what a miracle it was that Raenia was alive, and so beautiful, and that she wanted him.
He pulled at the neck of her dress, exposing Raenia’s shoulder and kissing her there, and then, working his fingers along the edge of her dress’ neck, the delicate protrusion of her collar bone. He moaned, unable to stand it, and he backed away just slightly, moving his hands over Raenia’s hair, face, and body. He unbuttoned her coat with shaking fingers, and peeled it from her, so she was standing in just her thin, close-fitting dress. With hitching breath, Gareth cupped Raenia’s generous breasts in his hands. He pressed his nose against hers, his heart pounding out of his chest.
Gareth could feel Raenia’s body go rigid, so he moved his hands lightly back to her arms, and pressed his open mouth against her soft cheek, panting. Raenia, too, was breathing heavily. She ran her hand over and over Gareth’s chest, while the other gripped the tree trunk behind her.
“This is turning into a bit more than kissing,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Gareth said, and began to back away. But Raenia grabbed his arm.
“Don’t go,” she said. “I really don’t think I could stand it. Talk to me?” she suggested. “I want to know what you’re thinking!”
Gareth laughed, leaning his face against hers, and he took Raenia’s hand and put it to his mouth. “Honestly, just the stupid things I guess all lovers do. That I had no idea anything could feel this good. That you’re probably the most amazing, funny, beautiful creature in the world. That I want to touch you more, and, possibly, never do anything else, ever. Sorry. Nothing more profound.”
“Aw, Gareth, that’s not bad at all. Especially considering that I’ve never heard you say more than a sentence at a time before tonight.” Raenia stroked his hair fondly. “Well?” she said after a moment, “Aren’t you going to ask me how I feel?”
“I figured you’d just tell me,” teased Gareth.
“Ha! Right you are.” Raenia paused. She looked into the distance, looking truly thoughtful; not playfully so, as she had earlier. “I’m thinking,” she said slowly, “that I want you to love me, now, like a husband loves his wife. You don’t believe in Tehngah, and neither do I, so we’re not doing anything wrong. I really couldn’t care less about this law or that. You’re the nicest guy, you’re handsome, you’re weirdly good at kissing for a guy of your type, so. It feels right. Don’t you think so, Gareth?”
Gareth felt overwhelmed. He gulped, and tried to gather his thoughts into a sentence of decent coherence. “I– Raenia, you have no idea, that sounds like– the nicest thing in the world. But– we could get in terrible trouble if someone caught us. You know that, don’t you? They could kill us for something like that.”
“No one’s going to catch us,” said Raenia matter-of-factly. “I told you that I just know things sometimes, and I know no one will find us tonight. Trust me?”
Gareth searched her face, feeling truly torn. He was frightened, but he’d also never wanted anything so badly. In a final attempt at reason, he said, “You could marry me! I know– I know it’s soon, but we’re both old enough, and plenty of people get married to people they’ve never met, so– compared to that– and, also– we could be together, then, and no one would mind. And we could have each other forever.”
“If you’re going to say that, we might as well not do it!” said Raenia, and she stomped her foot. “I don’t want to marry you, I just want to be with you, don’t you see the difference?”
Gareth felt wounded and abashed, and said nothing.
“Besides,” added Raenia, “There’s no way I could marry you, so stop even thinking about it!”
“Alright,” said Gareth quietly.
“So, what’ll it be?” asked Raenia, less harshly, running her hand over Gareth’s face. “Sorry,” she added, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I really like you. I just don’t want to marry anyone, okay?”
Gareth took a deep breath, and tried to steady himself. He knew that he wasn’t thinking logically, and that realization both upset and tempted him. Gareth had never in his life allowed himself to get swept away by his emotions, which he mistrusted greatly, until he had met Corrin. And with Corrin, Gareth had always reassured himself that his illogical decisions were due to love– and love, he thought, was something that happened once in a lifetime. The true mistake, he had thought, would be to ignore his emotional well-being and deny himself, and Corrin, the one opportunity they both had to experience something so rare and beautiful. Emotions, he reasoned, were a significant component to the human experience, and it would be illogical to try to write them out of the equation. Some risks were worthwhile.
But Raenia– what did he feel for her? Did this sudden rush of warmth he felt toward this girl have anything to do with love?
Gareth’s heart was still pounding. He could hear his blood whirring in his ears and pulsing in his neck and hands. Raenia was standing in front of him, her face hopeful, in her pale yellow gown, which clung tightly to her breasts and the gentle curve of her waist. Her large mouth was flushed dark where he had kissed and bitten her, and her cheeks and nose were red. Raenia’s dark eyes cast their saturnial glow upon Gareth as she raised them to his face, like two dark planets ascending in the night. Gareth trembled under their gaze, in foreboding and in desire. He felt, at that moment, that he had glimpsed something secret within her, something she had not wanted Gareth to see; something which both repulsed and drew him, like the tides in their silvering, lunar dance.
Gareth put his hand to Raenia’s breast, feeling her heart beat its dark tattoo against his palm. “What do you want?” he asked her in a low voice, drawing closer and shivering as their bodies barely touched.
“I want you, Gareth, who you are at this very, very second. Nothing less, nothing more. Is that so hard to understand?”
Gareth kissed Raenia, softly at first, listening to her breathe. He kissed her forehead, then pressed his own forehead to it, as if by doing so he could plunge himself into the blackness of her consciousness, like diving into an underground, lunar ocean. Gareth gripped her wrists, hard, like a drowning man. He kissed Raenia again, and said, “I don’t want to,” in a strangled voice.
“Oh, liar!” said Raenia, backing away so she could look Gareth full in the face. She still held his hands. “Maybe you’re scared, maybe you can’t– and I’d understand– but don’t tell me you don’t want this.”
She grabbed him by the shirt, aggressively, and pulled him so he could feel every inch of her body on his own, running her other hand up his thigh and stroking him where his hardness pressed against her. Gareth gasped, while Raenia laughed, “That is such a stupid lie, Gareth! Really!”
Gareth tried to speak, but his mouth didn’t seem to want to form words. He couldn’t find his breath. He ran his hands down Raenia’s sides, feeling where her waist narrowed, where her hips curved, and down her soft legs until he found the hem of her dress, and began to lift her skirts up over her thighs.
“I’ll take that as a yes?” joked Raenia.
Gareth kissed her and took her face in his hands, letting her dress slide back down to her knees and looking into her black eyes beseechingly. “Raenia, please, can’t you just be nice to me?”
Raenia laughed softly and tapped his nose with her finger. “Gods,” she said with a small smile, “I can’t believe what a sweet guy you are. I don’t want to do anything right now but make you happy, got it?”
Gareth nodded and smiled, moving his hands back around her.
Raenia grabbed his wrist and stopped him. “Look at me. I’m not kidding. Look right in my eyes.”
Gareth felt himself shiver pleasurably as he met Raenia’s eyes, all full and glowing with starlight.
“I want to know that you understand me, because this is important. So answer me, really answer me, this time. Gareth. You are so fucking beautiful that it makes me crazy. And I mean that you are so kind and secretive and surprised by yourself all the time that, every time you speak, I think to myself that I can’t imagine anything more stupidly, hopelessly beautiful. Honestly. And when I look at you, I want to see you look happier than anyone, and I want to know that I did that. I want that for you! Got it, Gareth?”
Gareth laughed, “Got it.”
“Good!” said Raenia.
And then, overwhelmed with longing, Gareth threw himself fully into the unknowingness of his passion. Gareth had never felt himself inhabit his own body so completely, as if his spirit were a bright fire that spread to his every extremity, so his fingers, lips, and tongue burned unbearably. He closed his eyes. He pressed himself to Raenia, desperately, wanting to lose himself within her. Her body moved below him like perfect, shimmering water. He ran his hand over her face, wanting to see her, unable to open his eyes.
Gareth moved with pure instinct; with an animal’s primal sense of thoughtless knowing. He had only experienced this state once before– in battle, under the threat of death, and blazing with fear. Gareth, forced to confront his enemy on the field of battle, had wielded his sword– the sword his commander had placed earlier in his dumb, shaking hands– with a bestial, terrifying ferocity, thinking only of his life; of not wanting to die. As he’d fought, Gareth had felt his body moving with a prenatural strength and quickness, while his every nerve burned and screamed for life.
Gareth felt himself drowning in his own solipsistic pleasure. He clung to Raenia’s soft, giving body, trying to drag himself to the surface. He opened his eyes and searched for her face. Raenia’s eyes were screwed closed. Her brow was sparkling with a diadem of sweat, all pearly in the moonlight, and her mouth was soft with labored breathing. She was clinging to Gareth with one hand. The other was hidden amongst the branching roots of her hair. “Raenia,” he said, wiping the sweat from her pale face, “I’m here, don’t worry, I’m right here.”
Raenia opened her eyes and raised her hand from her hair to Gareth’s face. She tucked a strand of his loose hair behind his ear and said, “Gareth, it’s alright, you don’t have to stop.” She placed a faltering kiss on the bridge of his nose.
“I’m going to die,” Gareth said, shuddering. And then he couldn’t stand another dizzying second on the precipice, and he pushed himself against Raenia with all his strength and being, kissing her savagely. For a moment he thought he might disappear into her, forever, and know no more.
Gareth collapsed, sweating and shaking. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He rolled over onto the cool grass, pulling his hands to his face. His throat felt hot and strained. Tears stung his eyes.
“Shut up!” whispered Raenia harshly, sitting up and grabbing Gareth’s arm.
“What did I do?” said Gareth, quieter, still in despair. He moaned. “What the fuck? What the fuck did I just do? Raenia! Oh goddess, Raenia, I’m so sorry!” He rolled on his side, looking at her with wide, fearful eyes.
“Calm down, Gareth!” she said urgently. “It’ll be fine. Nothing bad’s going to happen.”
Gareth took Raenia by the shoulders and shook her. He was nearly beside himself. “Are you stupid? You could be with child! What would become of us then?”
“I’m not going to going to become pregnant, Gareth! Look, I know where I am in my cycle, and promise– I’m not fertile right now. I wouldn’t have risked it if I were. Don’t you trust me?”
“Trust you?” Gareth was on his feet, fumbling to clothe himself. “Raenia, why do you even know that? Why would you have possibly needed to know that?”
Raenia was on her feet too, still standing stark naked in the white predawn light. She clenched her fists, and said in a savage whisper, “Well, since you just fucked me, I’d say that it’s pretty useful information, wouldn’t you?” She gave him a shove.
Gareth looked for a second like he was ready to shove her back, but he just slumped his shoulders, defeated. He put his hand to his head and stood, tense, for a long stretch of minutes. Finally, he looked at Raenia and said, “I hope you’re right.” His expression softened to kindness and he motioned for the girl to come to him.
Gareth held Raenia to him, stroking her hair. He kissed the top of her head gently. “I fucked up,” he murmured, hanging his head. He felt like his limbs had been pumped full of lead. “Even if nothing terrible happens– Raenia, I still ruined this for you. I was– just– horrible. You have to hate me.”
Raenia smiled up at him and shook her head, making her hair shimmer with stars. “Gareth, I could never. You’re so beautiful, how could I hate you?” She paused and ran her hand down Gareth’s chest. “I loved being with you tonight, so don’t give it a thought, got it?”
Gareth withdrew from the embrace and looked at the ground. The air was beginning to stir with birdsong and dew was gathering like sweat on the grass. “We have to go home,” Gareth said, and wordlessly, he helped Raenia into her things. He tied her dress, helped her back into her coat, dusted the dirt and leaves from her, and smoothed her hair.
They silently made their way back to the road. At the edge of the trees, right before they reached the open, Gareth said, “We should part here.”
Raenia nodded. “Gareth?” she said.
But he had already turned his back and begun to make his way home.