Title: When Morning Comes
Zaman Jaraei - May 27, 2011 09:44 AM (GMT)
Morning came, cold and bright.
The sun trickled its way out of the horizon, flooding the plains in a cold, pale light. At first it was a faint smear on the horizon, but soon it grew. It brought dawn.
His eyes were red and itchy, and he felt no joy at seeing the sun. In fact, his face took on a cold glower, the kind of expression a child adopted when it was time to wake up for lessons. He even felt his lips curl in slight disgust. He didn’t want morning to come. Not so soon.
And that was a lot coming from someone who’d hated the last few hours of night.
Morning meant getting up. It meant getting on his feet, packing all this stuff, and walking forever. He wouldn't be given the chance to sleep. They had to move. They were expected back in Maristheum, and his companion wasn’t the type to miss deadlines. She would walk to the Mainland if it meant doing her job right. Usually Zaman would admire such dedication, but in that moment, as the sunlight finally touched his face, he felt nothing but resentment.
Zaman had spent the better portion of the night sitting around. Once he’d moved the bodies, covered them in stones, and then washed his face, he hadn’t moved. He just sat there, in front of the fire, too worn out to do anything.
And he was still worn out.
The night had been silent. A badger had shown up, pawing at the stones covering the fallen Bandit, but after Zaman threw a few sticks at it, the badger got the hint and left. After that, nothing else. No wolves. No bears. No missing Bandits come for revenge. It was just Zaman, the stars, and a lot of empty thoughts.
He felt himself lean forward slightly, the urge to sleep suddenly overpowering. Then he jerked his head back and shook it. Lifting a hand, he slapped himself a few times. Wake up, Yar Zaman!
Seconds later, he leaned forward again, his eyes closing...
Galia Baryk - May 28, 2011 12:25 PM (GMT)
She'd woken up when the sunlight became too bright in her eyes, even though they were closed, and one felt painful and hot on the cheekbone beneath it. Galia raised a hand to touch the spot; every muscle in her arm was burning, her fingertips tingling. It was a good thing she had no need for vanity, as she likely looked a wreck, with a bloodied, split lip, swollen, purpled face, and filthy, tousled hair. It was cold, but her skin felt clammy, covered in a film of sweat and dirt. She had never wanted to bathe so badly in her life.
"Zaman?" she managed to croak, one eye cracking open to survey. She couldn't see him from this angle. Slowly, she sat up, trying to ignore the soreness in her ribs as she propped herself on her palms. The camp was much the same as when she'd shut them before, though the bodies were gone, and there was a strange pile of sticks beside them.
The sun was higher in the sky than she would've liked, long past dawn. They should have already left for Maristheum. What had he been thinking, letting her sleep this long? She called again, "Zaman?"
And was met with a snore.
Turning around, the corporal was fast asleep, though it was almost hard to tell given that he was still upright, just slightly slumped over, back against a rock. He was still breathing, at least. Under other circumstances, she might have been annoyed that he'd failed to wake her up and exchange shifts, but she didn't have the energy for it. If there had been any danger, Galia was convinced either one or both of them would have been awake enough to respond to it. It seemed they were still safe, though.
She was parched, but her bladder needed emptying. Galia got to her feet and limped her way around to a bush and made water. He was still unconscious when she came back and began poking around the site. The fire had died down to embers, not worth stoking to set up a hot breakfast. They'd have to feast on provisions. Water was running low, so she only drank enough to wet her throat. If they were lucky, they'd make it to a stream on their way.
But they'd have to get going soon. With a few strips of dried meat and a chunk of hard bread in hand, she eased herself back down next to Zaman, nudging him with her elbow until he stirred. "Mornin', sunshine. Breakfast time."
Zaman Jaraei - May 29, 2011 06:12 AM (GMT)
He jolted forward.
He was awake. What was she talking about? Why was she looking at him like that? He’d been awake this whole time. He wasn’t even sleeping. Not for a second...
Zaman rubbed the tips of his fingers against his lids. His head felt heavy, as if someone had packed a handful of rocks into his cranium. His eyes were still itchy, still irritable. Even his movements were sluggish. How was he supposed to move like this? How was he supposed to spend the day like this? He was miserable and unhappy. Even the prospect of breakfast couldn’t change that.
He took a chunk of bread from her and jammed a corner into the side of his mouth. The loaf was hard and tough, and it took a few gnaws to really chip off enough to chew. Then he just sat there, letting his saliva soften the morsel that shot about inside his mouth.
He wiped a few crumbs from his beard with the back of his hand. “I’d kill for a horse,” he told her bitterly.
She might have looked like a mess, but it was Zaman who felt like one.
Galia Baryk - May 29, 2011 09:18 AM (GMT)
He hadn't been awake, but Galia didn't correct him. In contrast to his apparent crankiness, she was in an oddly positive mood, when she should have been equally as sour given that she'd been injured no less (and possibly more) than he. Then again, she'd survived the night and managed to regain consciousness in spite of nearly having her head cracked open roughly three or four times in the span of twenty minutes, so that seemed good enough reason to have a little cheer.
Galia tore into the meat, ripping a chunk off with her teeth, but it was too difficult for her jaw to manage. She let the smoked tendon rehydrate in her mouth, keeping a piece of the tough jerky in the pocket of her cheek until it was tender enough to chew. Lightly, she quipped, "To ride, or to eat?"
She knew what he meant, but in truth, she was hungry enough for either option to seem beneficial at the moment. A horse would have helped, though, if they intended to haul everything in the pile back with them.
But Galia didn't, as she explained, "The load isn't too terrible. Half of the things our friends grabbed are worthless, and if they mean that much to anyone, they can retrieve it themselves." In her brief inventory, there were pots and pans, a few bolts of fabric, bags of unprocessed grain, and vials of perfume that all seemed expendable to her. "But there are some jewels, and plenty of coin. If we're lucky, the rightful owners might decide to thank us generously for our troubles."
Zaman Jaraei - May 30, 2011 07:46 AM (GMT)
To ride or to eat?
In that moment, “Both,” he muttered. “Though if I could eat it after I ride it...”
He felt hungover—if that was an appropriate thing to say. He hadn’t touched alcohol, but he felt the miserable ‘morning after’ effect all the same. How did she manage to be so chipper? It was as if the night had switched them. He’d turned bitter and disapproving, and she’d turned into Yar Zaman Jaraei.
He was trying, he really was. He wanted to be alert. He wanted to spring to his feet, snap his fingers, and do his job. But the more he thought about it, the less he could. Mind over matter.
And there was a lot of matter.
As she tried to motivate him, he felt his glower deepen. “Let’s hope,” he said, gnawing at the bread some more. When he was sure he couldn’t put any more effort into something as tasking as eating, he shoved the bread into his satchel and pushed himself to his feet. If he was going to do this, he was going to do this on his terms. He would whine and complain and make her life miserable, but he would do it.
Heck, he'd done it all the way here.
“If I collapse, assume I’m dead and carry on.”
Galia Baryk - May 30, 2011 09:05 AM (GMT)
On the one hand, it would be a peaceful stroll through the golden fields if she went alone. On the other, she was not willing to pick up his load if he did land flat on his face and stopped moving...and in spite of his incessant whining and all, the long walk back could have gotten a little lonely. Except she would have rather died herself and have her corpse stripped by carrion birds before she ever admitted it to him.
"Oh, I think not," Galia protested, getting to her own feet. She picked up one of the larger sticks to use as support. One hand was on her hip, the other leaning on the makeshift cane. "You better not die on me. And if you try, I will beat the life back into your stinking corpse, got it?" Not that the threat really made sense, but the intent was clear.
And just to make sure that he wasn't getting any funny idea that she'd said it because she cared, she reminded him, "We already failed one part of the mission. I don't intend to fall through on the rest of it." The bandits weren't all supposed to die. But the men also weren't supposed to be intent on murdering them, either. It would have been nice if one of them survived to be a pack mule. Maybe that big one that tried to take Zaman's head. He probably could have carried half the treasure, and them on his back.
She went to the pile of stolen property and began sorting. Everything had to be equal, if not just due to the weight, then in case of separation. One purse of coins went into her satchel, the other tossed to him. She grabbed a handful of necklaces, bracelets, and other shiny jewel-studded pieces of metal without any shred of temptation. Ostensibly, they were things of great value, but the jewelry all seemed rather gaudy for her tastes, and she wasn't a thief, even if no one would ever truly know what was missing. It was all tucked inside a square of fabric and bundled up neatly without a second thought.
Zaman Jaraei - June 1, 2011 06:11 AM (GMT)
He flashed her a weak smile.
She went on to describe how they’d failed—or partially failed. “They aimed for my face,” he protested, pointing a finger at his nose. “People shouldn’t do that.” He might have meant it as mockery, but a part of him was a serious. He liked his face.
He liked his face a lot.
Like her, he also wasn’t a thief. Money meant little to Yar Zaman. He’d grown up in a world without it, and still wasn’t sure how it all worked. Things didn’t have value to him. Not the little round things that shone, anyway.
He caught the coin purse tossed his way and secured it to his belt. Then he wandered around the camp, closing everything else off. They weren’t taking the bigger stuff, but if the villagers had a mind to come up here, they would at least find most things intact. The men and women who lived up here were usually poor. They lived on the fringes of society; so all this stuff was important. Zaman did his lazy best to make sure everything was secure. No doubt Galia would give them detailed directions how to get here.
He snuffed out the fire with a spray of dirt and turned to her. He was ready.
“How far is this village anyway?”
Galia Baryk - June 1, 2011 06:33 AM (GMT)
His face? It was just a flesh wound. Barely a scratch. She almost laughed in it, because she was highly suspicious that he wasn't just pretending to make a joke of things, but she didn't. One thing Galia absolutely hated was hypocrisy, and didn't want to sound like she was whining about being nearly strangled and beaten to death if she compared her wounds to his.
Everything in its place, with her items and all weapons secured to her person, Galia was ready to move on. "An hour," she answered lightly, while tightening down all of her straps. With some hesitance, she picked up her walking stick again, and added, "Normally. At this rate...maybe twice that, at least. Sorry."
The last word was delivered with complete sincerity, and maybe a tinge of shame. She wasn't in the business of apologies. She was usually very careful never to do anything she knew she would legitimately, deeply regret later. Getting injured couldn't have been helped given the dire circumstances and need for immediate reaction, but she still felt responsible for slowing them down now and meant what she said.
"If you get hungry on the way, you can have my rations," she offered in an attempt to make up for the extra time, knowing that they were both starving and anxious to reach civilization. "I think there's a small stream that runs slightly parallel to the road on the way, once we get to it. I don't mind stopping along the bank if you need to rest again."
Zaman Jaraei - June 2, 2011 08:04 AM (GMT)
She was speaking his language. All of it. She’d become fluent.
That, or she was still delirious.
This was not the same scout who had insisted they push on through the night. This was not the same woman who’d forced him to walk for hours on end without a single break. It couldn’t be. No, this person was someone else. Maybe that knock on her head had changed her. Maybe she wasn’t all there anymore.
Pity. He’d kind of grown to like the headstrong, eye-rolling version.
He fought down a smile, knowing full well that it was only her injury that kept her from pushing on at blistering speeds. Forcing it down, he gave her a nod. “I’ll be fine,” he said, knowing it was the right thing to say. “But water sounds good.” Zaman could use a bath. He smelt like shit.
He began to walk, pushing through the grass. “Don’t push yourself too hard, alright? If you feel like your leg is going to fall off, you’re allowed to take a break.” He turned to flash her a conspiratorial smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
Galia Baryk - June 2, 2011 07:22 PM (GMT)
"Nonsense," she dismissed him gruffly, frowning and stalking ahead of him.
That headstrong, eye-rolling scout wasn't completely missing. Galia wasn't about to admit that she may have needed to pause on account of any frailty, even if her suggestion about letting him take a break was transparent.
In the daylight, she could see where their kills were in the distance, from the way the grass laid flat and where there were big black birds circling overhead. They were lucky not to have attracted any larger predators yet. But come nightfall, and with no campfires warning of their presence, it was likely that these remains would disappear or be picked clean completely.
It wasn't right to just let the dead get taken by the earth and the scavengers, no matter how bad the man in question, but there was nothing to be done about it. Aside from the sheer impracticality, Ed and his friends had not stayed true to the declarations and deserved no Rites. She gave them a wide berth, and uttered a prayer under her breath as they passed by.
Galia was otherwise very quiet the rest of the way toward the beaten path, focusing entirely on moving forward. Chatter would only make her lose concentration and let the pain come to the forefront of her mind. About a quarter of an hour had passed since departing the campsite when she perked up. "You hear that?" It was a faint sound, but the gentle rush of flowing water was distinguishable from other ambient noise.
Zaman Jaraei - June 2, 2011 07:35 PM (GMT)
Zaman, for his part, was less concerned with the bodies.
Dead men were dead men. Sure, everyone deserved to be buried the Escovan way at sea, but these men were criminals. They relinquished that right the moment they chose to prey on innocent villagers—and the moment they chose to attack Zaman in the face.
Due to the nature of their pace (which was slow), Zaman found the time to do a lot of things. He swatted the grass with his sword, and he kicked out at pebbles. He talked to himself. Like a child with too much time on his hands, he was playing.
And then she stopped him.
His sword cut through the last of the Grassy Enemy, and he paused. He heard it too. The tell-tale sound of rushing water. It was almost like a whisper. His smile sharpened and there was a sudden flash of teeth.
Then he was off running towards the water.
Galia Baryk - June 2, 2011 08:32 PM (GMT)
"Hey–" Galia started as he charged off, but didn't bother to finish her protest. She was far too stubborn and proud to tell him to wait for her, even though she couldn't keep up and had to half-hobble, half-hop the rest of the way. Her knee was screaming at her to stop trying so hard, except she wasn't one to accept being left in the dust.
Reaching the bank, the vegetation surrounding the narrow stream was a little more verdant closer to the water than it was in the rest of the field. The bed itself seemed fairly shallow, not deep enough to support an abundance of fish, but it ran clear and she could see rocks at the bottom. They were in no risk of getting pushed over or swept away by the current, though it was suitable enough to bathe in and drink from.
Dropping her belonging into a pile, Galia knelt at the water's edge and splashed her face. Staying upstream of Zaman, she decided to refill her water skin before stripping down. The boots were the first items to go. She wiggled her toes in the cool brook while setting to work on unlacing the rest of her leathers.
Zaman Jaraei - June 2, 2011 08:56 PM (GMT)
He reached the riverbank and began to peel himself out of his clothes. He undid the straps to his leather vest, then pulled his thick, dirty tunic over his head. He threw both these things on a dry patch of grass and began to work on his boots. Hopping in the air, he untied the lances and yanked them off. The boots joined his shirt and vest. Not a single item was put down neatly. It was all haphazard and careless.
For a few seconds it felt good to simply stand around, in the wind. It felt good to feel the mud between his toes, and the sunlight on his bare shoulders.
It felt even better to throw himself into the water.
He splashed nosily in the waist-high water, swimming, floating, and kicking his way from one bank to the other. Just like that, he wasn’t tired anymore. He was on his second wind—or third wind. Fourth wind. He hadn’t actually slept in days, but now that he was doing this, he didn’t mind. The walking, the scouting, the fighting. All of that was worth it for this moment alone.
Eventually, he stood up in the water and pushed his way towards her. The stream was fast-moving, but the current wasn’t strong. He could stand without a problem.
“Don’t tell me you’re just going to sit there,” he said, spreading his hands.
Galia Baryk - June 2, 2011 10:11 PM (GMT)
Galia had rolled up her leggings as far as she could and was shrugging off her jerkin when she heard his approach. Her brigandine was neatly arranged by her boots; she couldn't afford to treat her armor carelessly. It was expensive, and custom made to her figure. There weren't enough women in the military to warrant the issue of gear that actually fit their bodies. Eventually, she'd saved up enough to buy herself armor.
It was a relief to peel the leather off her skin, exposing her midriff and her arms to the cool air. The brassiere would have gone, too, if she wasn't vaguely concerned that he'd just stand there and gawk and be even more useless the rest of the way.
She sat still, examining the garment before folding it. There was a whole in one of the sleeves. Finally, she looked up at him, "No, I'm going to scrub some of this crud off my skin." Slowly, she got back to her feet, stepping onto the muddy shore again, and began unlacing the waist of her trousers. "What else am I supposed to be doing?"
Zaman Jaraei - June 2, 2011 10:55 PM (GMT)
Okay, he was looking.
He knew it was wrong—indecent; that was the word—but he couldn’t help it. Before this moment, Zaman was only peripherally aware of her attractiveness. Like, yeah, she was nice looking. Blond. Good cheekbones. Her shape was about right. But now...
He tried hard to not let his gaze turn lecherous, but a part of him couldn’t exactly look away anymore. His smile seemed to die a little, and his tongue poked out of his mouth.
This certainly changed things.
It took him a few seconds to reply. He’d heard her question, but he hadn’t processed it. Not until he forced himself to anyway. He opened his mouth. “You know...” A hand moved in the air, simulating something. “Swimming—and stuff. But like, you can also do that if you want. Cleaning crud, I mean. I’m okay with that too. Yeah. Cool.”
Cool cool cool.
And he couldn’t shut up.
Galia Baryk - June 2, 2011 11:53 PM (GMT)
She was folding the last of her outer garments when she finally heard him respond dumbly. Galia narrowed her eyes.
For Pryyo's sake.
She couldn't even just stand in her smallclothes without him gaping at her appearance. His head might have actually exploded if he'd seen her completely nude. Honestly. He was old enough to have seen a woman's body before, wasn't he? If talk around the barracks was right, she'd gotten the impression that he had a way with ladies and he wasn't some young virgin boy. There was nothing she had that others didn't, and she was actually much leaner than most women, due to all of the strenuous activity the job entailed. She was not softly curved, plush to touch, with childbearing hips. In her eyes, there was nothing to look at, not really. She didn't get it.
For the most part, she thought she had a general grasp of the male psyche and could emulate the attitude fairly well. But the one thing she would never understand was the mystical properties that female breasts possessed over men.
"Uh huh," she said after a moment, then a wicked grin appeared. "So, let's go swimming." It took only a couple of steps forward and outstretched arms, aimed for his chest, to shove him backwards into the water.
Zaman Jaraei - June 6, 2011 01:12 AM (GMT)
It was unfair. Her. Standing there.
He had to hand it to her. She didn’t let her looks get in the way of her personality. In fact, up until the point her perfectly flat torso was revealed, Zaman wasn’t sure she was a sexual entity at all—at least not a viable one anyway. But then she went ahead and showed her curves. It threw him off balance. In his books, taking off her clothes was a curve ball.
And then she went ahead and shoved him.
Water engulfed him as he sank into the rushing river. For a second it was all he knew. The press of ice cold water. The slick sensation of rocks under his feet. Then he twisted himself back, throwing himself out of the current and pushing his way towards her.
"That is not how you swim!" he shouted, his dark hair slick against his forhead and rivulets of clear water dripping down the skin of his neck and chest. "Here. Let me show you how it's really done." With a laugh, he tackled her, grabbing her head between his arm and forcing her down with him...
He understood on some level that she was badly injured, and that she was a girl, but in that moment, he could have almost forgotten.
Galia Baryk - June 6, 2011 04:22 AM (GMT)
Galia had no expectations of being allowed to get away with what she'd done, but she stood on the bank as long as she could, laughing deep and hard as he floundered. It hurt to inhale and exhale, as her ribs were mottled with brown and purple, yet it was completely worth it. She was still grinning madly when he emerged and came back for her.
Her knee, already unsteady as it was, gave way first as the weight of his arm landed on her. She could have struggled harder if she wanted to, though it hardly seemed worth the effort when she really did want to end up in the water. One way or another, she was going to take a bath. So she went along with it, feigning an effort to resist, grappling with Zaman enough to seem like she was trying to free herself.
Down they went, plunging into the chilly stream. Though she went in blind, the cold rush revived the rest of her senses. In spite of all the aches in her body, she felt better than she'd felt in days. Under the surface, Galia found it a lot easier to wriggle away from him. She'd spent her youth playing similar games off the coast of Sathyr. It wasn't the same once she'd come into a more womanly figure, as half of them were afraid to touch her lest they wanted to be punched out for it, but she still knew how to slip a hold.
Once she had broken out, she rolled with a splash, and kicked a few feet until she had enough room between them to stand. In need of air, she settled her soles on the rocky bed and rose up against the current, soaked from head to toe. Galia flung her head back, hair spraying droplets of water as it flew away from her face. She wiped at her eyes, letting the rest drip down her cheeks and everywhere else on her body, gasping for breath and trying to gather her bearings.
Zaman Jaraei - June 6, 2011 09:59 PM (GMT)
She squirmed away from him, twisting, jerking away. She was like a fish, a slippery trout that he couldn’t quite keep a grip on. In seconds she’d managed to break away. She kicked herself through the clear water.
He broke the surface too, standing a few feet away from her as she whipped her hair back and wiped her eyes. Like her, he tried to keep his balance on slippery rocks as the river rushed past his waist and legs. But for all his shifted and tried to keep his center of gravity, he also found the time to grin at her, his brow a complex, jagged line.
He ran his tongue along his bottom lip, tasting the ice cold water dripping down from his cheekbones. Of course, he had a million things he wanted to say, but not even one was appropriate.
So he went with something else.
“Hi.” He smiled, running a hand through the damp mess that was his hair.
Galia Baryk - June 7, 2011 08:58 AM (GMT)
When she had finally blinked most of the water out of her eyes, the human shaped blur that she recognized as Zaman came into focus. All he had to say for himself was a single word. And that smile.
It was vaguely unsettling. Not because she found him to be some ugly, creepy lech, but precisely because she didn't. She was willing to concede that he was handsome, though her dilemma had less to do with admitting physical attraction as much as an inability to figure out how it factored into their partnership. Their dynamic had altered in that brief span of time when she was wearing her soiled leathers and after she'd taken them off, and she wasn't prepared for it.
Modesty had been far from her mind when she undressed, and part of her figured that the shock of seeing her body would have worn off after shoving him into the stream. It obviously hadn't.
If she hated him, it wouldn't have been an issue. She'd have slugged him and that would be the end of it. But for all of his goofy, strange, often childish mannerisms, she found Zaman oddly endearing, and considered him a brother-in-arms after the night's events. She also appreciated that he didn't once balk at her orders, and treated her presumably as he would any other soldier. Yet he saw her now without her layers of armor to conceal her femininity, and she felt vulnerable and exposed for it.
Galia thought well of him. She didn't want him to think less of her. But she didn't know how to say that without revealing that his opinion actually mattered, or that she was still self-conscious after all these years. Her appearance had a way of undermining her actions. She was unsure how to gauge whether that was the case now, and she hated uncertainty more than anything.
Unconsciously, she mirrored his motion by combing her fingers through her hair, still filthy with oil and even more tangled after being dunked. Her other hand went to her hip as she put her weight on her good leg, and forced herself to smile back, though it appeared more as her usual smirk.
"Hi," she echoed casually.
Zaman Jaraei - June 9, 2011 03:41 AM (GMT)
He was thinking much the same thoughts.
Well, without the sudden self-doubt and body issues.
Had he known what she was thinking, he might have laughed. The problem, as always, were the breasts. He liked them. He liked looking at them, touching them, and basically having a good time with their proximity. If he had breasts strapped to his chest, he would play with them all day. He would visit, say hi. He would never let them feel lonely.
And she, her, Galia, had nice breasts.
The rest of her wasn’t bad either—which was another problem. Zaman had a rule against crushing on colleagues, but more of then not, he found himself breaking said rule. The only buffer he had was that they never seemed to like him. It was never mutual. To them, he was just another soldier in a barracks full of soldiers. Not the most handsome, not the best fighter, and certainly not the most connected. He was mediocre, and that was never a turn on.
He ran a hand across his mouth, his smile fading. He then began to push forward through the water towards her, wandering if she would do the smart thing and keep the distance.
Or punch him.
She was welcome to sock him in the face too...
Galia Baryk - June 9, 2011 10:40 AM (GMT)
Galia watched him carefully, where his eyes went, trying to decipher his intentions. She wasn't a mind reader, but she saw that look in them and she could glean what kind of ideas he had.
It was her personal policy not to fraternize. Not for lack of interest – she was a woman, and most certainly had not been a maiden for many years now. She was only made of flesh and blood, and she had needs, too. She worked in a field dominated by men, who came in a wide array of looks and appeal. She could have her choice, if and when she wanted.
But it was always a bad idea to shit where one ate, and even if she didn't actually involve herself with her colleagues, the rumors that she did were out there, anyway. That was not to say she hadn't made any mistakes when she was younger, but she knew better now. It wasn't just about her principles, her career, or her pride, either. She still didn't want him to think she was some bimbo, or to change the way he acted around her, either.
There were an infinite number of reasons why letting this go any further would have been absolutely and completely wrong, even unethical.
It had been a while. She wasn't desperate, but she had been preoccupied as of late. And he might have been mediocre, but he was here in this rare moment of respite. With no one else for comparison, that made him the best by default. They were very much alone, after all. The stories about her were already told. Who could prove that this one might actually be true?
As he came closer, the thought seriously went through mind, and it played across her face as she unconsciously ran her tongue over her lower lip. She hadn't retreated from him, though Galia was more likely to stand her ground than back up even if that wasn't an invitation. And it wasn't. Not really, regardless of the fact that some frustrated, baser instinct didn't mind the attention, wanted to see how this played out, wondered how it would feel.
That wasn't the part of her in control, though. She inhaled deeply and shut her eyes. He was still in front of her when she opened them, but her expression had hardened. "Don't," she exhaled, remaining otherwise unmoving, not even to lift a hand. Both were planted firmly on her hips. "Whatever you're thinking...don't." The words came out more of a request than a command or even a warning. She liked him enough to give him that option.
Zaman Jaraei - June 10, 2011 07:15 AM (GMT)
He actually didn’t know the stories about her. Up until he’d been assigned to help her, he knew nothing. Just a name, a pretty face, and nothing.
She was just a blank slate that was quickly being scrawled on.
He stopped when she raised her hand, the sudden rush of water around him dying down to the regular rhythm of the stream. His chest seemed to compress as he exhaled. He was aware of the proximity now. Close, but not close enough. Far, but not far enough. Dichotomy. Always the damn dichotomy. And he wasn’t sure what he was doing—much less expected her to know.
He found his voice. It came out casual, almost deriding. “Don’t...what?” A smile. A casually placed, carefully constructed smile. It was boyish and charming, but it was also cold and suspicious. “What do you think I’m going to do?”
What did she think was going to happen here?
His upper body was leaning forward slightly, almost as if he was in the process of starting to move again.
Galia Baryk - June 10, 2011 09:09 AM (GMT)
The honest answer was that she didn't know.
And she absolutely hated not knowing anything. It was her job to know. Know more about her surroundings, the people she was dealing with, attempt to predict their actions, then make her counter moves. Knowledge was her only way of being in control of her circumstances. She didn't have that advantage now, though.
In the short few days that they'd been together, Galia still couldn't wrap her head around his pattern of thought or behavior. While she initially assessed him to be just another simple-minded soldier boy, he proved to be slightly more complex. He was inconsistent, unpredictable. He went from sullen and whiny at one moment, then energetic and enthused at the next. And most of the time, he was vaguely annoying.
Like right now, for example. She really wanted to wipe that smug expression away with her fist. Her hand had actually balled up, fingers clenched almost as tight as her jaw. But she still didn't take a swing, and hadn't moved toward or away from him. After all, he hadn't given her a solid reason to do either, yet. It was like he was trying to test her patience with this sudden turn of playing coy. What did he want from her? What did he expect her to do, or say to him, really? She didn't get it. She didn't know.
The only thing she hated more than not knowing was being forced to admit it. But in this situation, she didn't seem to have any other choice. They were just standing there, staring, and she was getting tired. Something had to give. She arched a brow, remaining otherwise stone faced and neutral in tone.
"I don't know. But either do something, or turn around. I need to bathe."
Zaman Jaraei - June 12, 2011 09:26 PM (GMT)
Okay, so they were done. That was the death knell. Not her words, but the frosty tone behind her words. Zaman understood it for what it was and he snapped himself out of it.
They were done.
He lifted both of his hands out of the water and held them out to her as if trying to pacify some angry beast. “Alright,” he said, looking just a little confused. “I’ll...let you bathe.” He wasn’t sure if he was afraid of her, but there was a part of him that didn’t want to ruin this—whatever this was. If he got on a bad side, he’d be on it for the rest of the journey.
And this time, there would be no bandits for him to kill and win her over.
He began moving again, this time at an angle. He brushed past her, heading for the riverbank.
Even as he pulled himself out and took a seat on the packed mud, he wondered what her deal was. He was sure she was thinking it, and for a second back there, he’d been sure she wanted this. But then that moment had evaporated. Now it was just awkward. Very awkward.
Galia Baryk - June 12, 2011 11:58 PM (GMT)
Galia hadn't so much as twitched until he'd gotten past her and his back was turned. But as soon as the splashes behind her quieted, she relaxed, tension fleeing her shoulders and her back. She lowered herself into the water until she was just a floating head, took a deep breath, and immersed herself completely.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she heard herself think, and even the water roaring past her ears couldn't drown out the word or those thoughts. She had let it go too far in the first place. Or not far enough. Maybe if they just had gotten it out of their systems... No.
She ran out of air at that moment, and broke the surface again. Her limbs felt heavy and she had a knot twisting in her gut that she wanted desperately to attribute solely to hunger. Wading closer to a shallower part of the stream and out of his sight, she sat on a half-submerged rock and began vigorously scrubbing at her skin with her hands. There was no soap, but she could at least try to wipe off some of the blood and dirt that caked her arms and legs.
But she was distracted, and angry. Not even at him, though he didn't make it easy. She was pissed at herself for nearly caving in, and worse yet, for thinking that it would have been a big deal if she had. Were it the other way around, were it that women didn't have to be held as chaste to be honourable, she wouldn't have hesitated nearly as much to take the opportunity. Men didn't have to care or think about the consequences.
Scooping a handful of water into her cupped palms, Galia finished cleaning her face, which seemed to have the most red-brown crust on it, and got up. Her clothing and her pack was elsewhere. Retracing her steps, she found her belongings near where Zaman had planted himself, and felt momentary cowardice about having to deal with him in order to get dressed again. Stupid. She had nothing to fear from him. Galia stopped in front of him, arms folded over her chest, face stern.
But she didn't know what else to say, other than the absolutely blunt truth of what was on her mind. "I like you," she blurted out, though her hard, almost annoyed expression seemed to be opposite of her words. "Not...in the...you know, stupid juvenile, boy-girl, way," she waved one hand in the air. This was turning out to be a fine speech. Pure verbal vomit. She was struggling to push past her self-criticism and get to the point. "Just... We have to work together. I don't want things to be weird. I don't want... Can we just be friends, or something?"
Zaman Jaraei - June 13, 2011 02:26 AM (GMT)
He sat on the bank for a while, forcing himself not to think about anything. Thinking about it—whatever it was—was stupid, and he wasn’t going to do it. He was a soldier. More than that: he was a guy. It wasn’t a part of his psychological makeup to think about things like this. She probably didn’t even care—and like her, Zaman shouldn’t care either.
Or so the theory went.
Eventually, he lost track of her. She moved away, probably to another part of the stream; somewhere that was more private. Not seeing her brought about a welcome reaction. The tension in his muscles died away, and he felt himself lean back onto his elbows. Her absence allowed him to enjoy the sunlight. It allowed him to not think about it—which was a good thing.
Somewhere between the moment she’d vanished, and the moment she returned, Zaman had closed his eyes and eased himself onto his back. When he opened them, he saw her standing before him, her arms folded against her chest and her expression as severe as it had always been. She was clean. The dirt was gone, and the blood seemed to have washed away. All that was left were the bruises. The sun was too her back, and she covered him in her shadow, like some kind of cold eclipse.
He pushed himself back up to his elbows. He opened his mouth to say something—only to have her cut him off.
What happened next was expected. She explained herself—or she tried to. She said she liked him...but not in that way. Not in the 'girls like boys' kind of way. Not in the that juvenile way. Stupid, she called it. Zaman felt himself nod, his eyes warily searching her. She said she wanted to be friends. Couldn’t they just be friends or something? He looked at her for a seconds.
"She wasn't letting this drop, which was a bad thing. It meant he couldn't let it drop. If he did, it would seem like he was being an asshole. But if they had a conversation, he might as well cut off his penis and grow a vagina.
He pushed himself to his feet.
"Look, this is going to come across as stupid but--"
He grabbed the back of her neck and dragged her in for a quick, hard kiss. Then he let go and stepped back. It wasn't a good kiss, or even a polite one. No tongue or anything. Just his lips hard against hers. When he stepped back, he grinned at her.
"Okay, now it won't be weird."
Galia Baryk - June 13, 2011 03:30 AM (GMT)
She wasn't sure what to expect in reaction to what she said, and had to force herself to stay put in order to find out. Galia felt like a fool. Waiting for her imminent humiliation had her heart racing almost as much as it had while waiting for the fight to begin last night. He was just sitting there for what felt like a century, and she couldn't read what he was thinking. That pissed her off again.
Then he got up, looked about to say something stupid -- and she almost laughed, because what else did she expect to come from him?
And then she felt his fingers on her neck, his mouth on hers, so sudden and unexpected that she didn't have time to think of resisting. It was rough and unpleasant, but thankfully brief. He let go, stepped back, and grinned. Her eyes had been wide the whole time, and remained in the same stunned shape for a few seconds longer after the space between them returned. She blinked, then just stared at him impassively.
Other women might have yelled. They might have slapped him. But she didn't say anything, only lifted a hand to touch her lip. Taking her fingers away, there was a little bit of pink blood on them. Not much, but the crack in the tender skin had split again. Her tongue darted out to lick it away. And then she was back to staring at him, cold and hard.
Doing what he did was practically issuing a challenge.
Impulsively, she lunged forward, planting her hands on his shoulders and shoving him back down to the soft bank. Her weaker leg buckled in the motion, and she fell, too, though she managed to catch herself on her palms, knees in the soil. The rest of her straddled over his body, not actually touching any part of him, but hovering directly above. She slowly lowered her mouth to kiss him lightly, just barely letting her lips touch his to the point that it almost seemed chaste, before tossing her head back with a wicked grin.
"Still not weird, right?"
Zaman Jaraei - June 15, 2011 06:11 AM (GMT)
It all changed within heartbeats. One second he was standing barefoot on a riverbank, his teeth bared in a grin, and the next he was flat on his back, with the phantom sensation of her body hovering over his.
Okay, now there was a problem.
He hadn’t seen it coming. Well he had, but not this version of it. The version where she ended up on top, defiant and grinning. No; he’d seen this headed in a different direction. A direction that didn’t involve chaste kissing and her body straddling his.
It was his turn to stare. It was hard enough to concentrate with her so close, but when she tossed her hair around like that, he knew he was on the losing end of this challenge. Her dagger-like smile only drove the defeat deeper, until he could no longer see victory .
“Still not weird, right?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Okay, just a little weird,” he admitted. “You were supposed to punch me, call me trash. Not kiss me back!”
This girl knew nothing.
Galia Baryk - June 15, 2011 07:01 AM (GMT)
She was already winning. By the absolutely baffled look on his face, she just knew she was going to emerge the victor in this battle of wills. And that's all this was, a game of dominance and control, wasn't it? Galia could throw him off just as readily as he could do to her. It didn't take much.
"Supposed to?" she echoed, tilting her own head, and lifting her own eyebrow. A mocking reflection of his face below hers, albeit with the most deadpan voice. "Why, if I did everything I was supposed to do, I wouldn't even be here." Whether that was just mere inches from him, or in the Army, or on the island, at all.
She wasn't like other girls, that much she knew, if nothing else.
Cheekily, she added, "But I could still punch you, if that's what you'd rather I do, trash."
Zaman Jaraei - June 19, 2011 12:11 AM (GMT)
It wasn’t bad being here, he realized. Under her, pinned between the ground and her soldier’s need to dominate and come out on top. Zaman was okay with all that. He was okay with giving her the victory. This time.
Laughter escaped through his lips. It was a sharp, loud sound. “No. That’s fine. I like the kissing part more, anyway. Let’s do that again.” To demonstrate just how much more he liked it, Zaman propped himself up on his elbows again and tilted his chin up, angling towards her.
Again, it wasn’t a bad thing. He was just a man of principles, was all.
Galia Baryk - June 19, 2011 03:40 AM (GMT)
Though there was still that voice in the back of her head screaming stop, do not pass go, do not collect, there were other parts of her more grateful for his response. Her weary arms and legs were among them; with his body elevated closer to her own, she had to do a lot less work. Galia eased the tension in her limbs, settling against him so that her chest pressed against his, taking some of the weight off her arms.
If she regretted it later, well...that was later. Now, she was just in the moment and enjoying it. He was warm underneath her skin, and so was the sunlight on her back, and it felt good after the chill of the stream.
While that narrow gap had closed, she still kept enough space between their heads so that she could see him. "Yeah?" she grinned back, teasing, "Really, if that's how you normally do things, I think the kissing part needs some work." She leaned in slowly, tilting her head just so, carefully aligning his face to her own. Every word brought her closer, until she was practically talking against his mouth, "But that's what friends are for, right?"
She didn't give him any opportunity to accept or reject the label, kissing him again, this time with more force and fire behind it. Not roughly, but far from chaste, or even particularly tender. This wasn't a gesture of affection, after all. It was an expression of a much baser instinct and desire.
Zaman Jaraei - June 20, 2011 01:11 PM (GMT)
And then there was the weight of her—which was much, much better than the not-weight of her. Against his chest—against him—she seemed to signal a thaw he hadn’t expected. Sure, she’d straddled him and planted that super-chaste kiss, but now it was real.
So why did that surprise him?
Her face covered his entire field of vision. He’d never seen her this close, but there she was. The good and the bad. The smooth skin riddled with bruises and cuts. Galia Goddamn Baryk.
After a quick word about friendship and Zaman’s talented—talentless?—mouth, she moved in closer. The resulting kiss was better. Better than the quick, forceful one he’d given her. Better than the one she’d given him. There was something there. The kind of kissing he enjoyed. Parting his lips, he tilted his head right to meet her, his tongue working against hers.
Meanwhile, there were other parts of him that were also cool with this.
One hand rose to the back of her waist, his fingers pressing into the skin there. The other one moved to her neck, his fingers slipping into the strands of hair there. He was pushing her down against him.
Breaking the kiss for a second, his eyes meeting hers, Zaman grinned. “You are such a good friend.”
Galia Baryk - June 21, 2011 09:19 AM (GMT)
She had closed her eyes. It was the only way she could lose herself to the sensation, the feel of his tongue, his lips, even the brush of his scruffy stubble, rather than think. Too much of that would have stopped her completely.
Reflexively, she tensed at his hands, not seeing or anticipating the motion while focusing on their kiss. She felt the calloused pressure on her back first, then eased into his touch, letting her body flush up against his. She was made aware of a slight pain in her ribs as skin met skin, and firm muscle underneath, but ignored it. The brush against the nape of her neck, fingers threaded into her still damp hair, elicited a small sound from the back of her throat.
When they broke, she was grateful for a chance to catch her breath, though perhaps less so to hear Zaman's voice and study his face. Galia glanced at the fine cut on his cheek, recalling their assignment, the time they were wasting, and how utterly idiotic and impulsive this decision was. But it was one she'd committed to, and no one could question her sense of determination.
And she was determined to get rid of that half-charming, half-irritating grin.
She forced another kiss on him, long and deep, combative. Thus far, her hands had been set on the bank to support her, but once they were more horizontally aligned, she was free to let them roam. One braced against his shoulder, the other snaked up to his head, ran fingers through his hair, lightly grasped at it, pulling him to her as much as he was pushing.
Zaman Jaraei - June 22, 2011 04:19 PM (GMT)
“Right. Okay. Good idea.”
Talking was pointless anyway. As was quipping. Wait. Was that what was doing—quipping at her? Either way, he decided to stop. Besides, his mouth had more important things to do.
In that moment, it was no secret that Zaman wanted to put his penis inside of her. There was no eloquent way to put it. He wanted to have sex with her. Hard and fast.
But being underneath her, still somewhat pinned, was not his style. Grabbing her by he waist, he planted a foot on the mud and pushed against her, effectively flipping her over. It was rough and hard, and he was sure she wouldn’t exactly mind. She didn’t seem the type for gentle whispers and careful teasing. He wasn’t going to braid her hair and ask her about her day. They were running out of time and if he was going to access her portal, he needed to move fast.
And he did. One hand slid down his trousers, unbuckling the belt he wore, even as the other hand dared to move up, past her flat torso, and towards more...supple parts of her.
Throughout this whole thing, he didn’t break contact with her mouth once.
Galia Baryk - June 22, 2011 08:58 PM (GMT)
And suddenly the world was upside down, and she was looking up at him, momentarily dazed from the shift.
"Fuck," she hissed as she was was pressed into the earth. A little roughness wasn't usually a problem for her, but she didn't make it a habit to fuck after a fight. Still, ugly bruises and scrapes and all, she appreciated that he wasn't wasting her time. The pain could be ignored when it was paired with pleasure. He at least knew her well enough to understand she wasn't a delicate flower who needed to be wooed or seduced.
She only needed one thing from him, really, and that was still unfortunately trapped inside his trousers. He was working on that, though, and she wasn't about to get in the way.
Her hands slid around his neck, the left keeping his mouth firmly in place on hers, while the right caught his back, fingers resting on his shoulder blade. They gripped down when she felt the warmth of his hand on her breasts, through the still water-soaked fabric of her undergarments. She arched her backpushing into the touch, encouraging it. Even while continuing the kiss, she couldn't help smirking at the thought that just the sight of those were the start of this.
Ah, the wonders of having a voluptuous rack. One leg bent with her knee up, heel dug into the dirt, and pressed against his side in anticipation. They were just so close, it was maddening.
With her heart thundering in her ears and her mind entirely preoccupied, she could barely hear or register the faint sound of voices and splashing down stream...
Zaman Jaraei - June 22, 2011 09:16 PM (GMT)
Of course. Of course there were voices and splashing. Why wouldn’t there be? Of course he was never going to get into her pants. This was all expected. Ordained by the forces that controlled the Universe. No shoes. No shirt. No service.
And he’d really been hoping for service.
He broke from the kiss, his lips on fire and his groin full of familiar tension. He could just keep going, he reasoned as he looked down at her. He could just do it and worry about the noises later. She was so hot, and he was so...ready. His eyes seemed to dance with the indecision of it all. Her. Noises. Her.
Noises. They were louder now.
He planted a free hand on the mud and pushed himself off of her. An angry sigh escaped his lips. “Stay here,” he ordered, voice like the low rumble of thunder. Zaman couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this annoyed at something. “Don’t move.” God help whoever decided to ruin this moment. Zaman almost prayed it was a Bandit. Someone to kill would be a lot easier to deal with.
He pushed himself to his feet.
It took a second to stuff his junk back into his pants and yank them up to his waist. Buckling his belt, he leaned back down to grab his sword and stalked off in the direction of the noise.
Galia Baryk - June 22, 2011 10:45 PM (GMT)
He was on top of her, moving, touching, and she had lifted her hips slightly to take off what little she was still wearing, and then...
Breathless and flushed, she let her head rest on the ground, tilting and twisting to see what had distracted him, when things seemed to be going so well. No longer deafened and dulled by his presence above her, she could finally hear the distant chatter and churl of water. It couldn't even just be some harmless, passing wildlife, taking a drink. It had to be people out there. But she couldn't distinguish between the voices well enough to do a count without sight.
"Oh, for fuck's sake..." she growled under her breath, untangling herself from his body, letting her hands drop to her sides. They balled into fists, smacking the earth with a dull thud. Zaman wasn't the only one wholly frustrated and pissed off by this new obstacle. Men had an easier time of finding quick satisfaction without a partner. Galia was left with this dull ache and a chill as he pulled away and got up.
Stay here. Was he trying to give her orders now? Don't move. He was already lacing up and marching off, weapon in hand, when she sat up and muttered, "Fuck you."
Like she was going to just lay here, exposed, and wait for him to come back. Her own clothing wasn't very far. Galia made a reach for her leggings and tugged them back, though she decided it was too much effort to try to put on her jerkin. Grabbing her dagger, she followed him down the bank in pursuit of their disruptor.
Zaman Jaraei - June 23, 2011 03:39 PM (GMT)
He stopped. His grip tightened around the hilt of his sword. “That’s what I wanted,” he muttered, spitting the words out as if they were rocks in his mouth.
Then he proceeded to walk forward, peripherally aware of her following. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, he wasn’t wearing his boots, and he was pretty sure no one would take him seriously like this. In that moment, he also didn’t care. He just wanted this over and done.
He walked for about twenty seconds when he spotted them.
It was the villagers.
He stopped the moment they saw him. Zaman’s eyes widened. In response, their eyes widened. Mutual recognition flared through both parties. Zaman felt his jaw fall slack. “Hi,” he said, the expression in his eyes notched somewhere between embarrassment and surprise. What were they doing here? A few of them were armed with crude weapons: scythes, pitchforks, clubs. Others were unarmed. One or two stood in the back, tending to some donkey-carts.
At first they were all looking at him.
Then they were looking at the woman coming up behind him.
Galia Baryk - June 23, 2011 04:27 PM (GMT)
If she had any sense of shame, strolling up only half-dressed would have been appalling, but...well, she didn't. She was pissed, damp, armed, and dangerous. All of those feelings took precedence over any sense of propriety. Galia was slower to approach, lagging behind on account of her lamed leg, but she could see past Zaman and had no intention of hiding from the group.
Where his jaw had dropped, hers remained firmly set in a grimace. It appeared that they had gotten up for no reason whatsoever, as the villagers were not a threat to them. In fact, even if they were, she'd have already disarmed everyone by the sheer fact of showing up topless. Gawkers made up the majority of the party. Only a few had the decency to look away, and the one woman (a homely looking creature, whom she didn't register as female upon first glance, in spite of wearing a dress) was scowling.
Galia, on the other hand, remained composed and calm, as if she was still geared head to toe. Let them look. Her rage was suppressed for the moment, only to get this over with and go back to their own business. If the mood hadn't been completely ruined, at least. She tucked the blade into her waistband and stepped closer, hands at her sides and distinctly away from her weapon, to show she was harmless.
"Good afternoon, sirs, and ma'am," she dipped her head politely. "My...associate," Galia chose the term carefully as she glanced back at Zaman, "and I were on our way to return your goods to you. The bandits have been eliminated. Some of your property is in our possession, though the larger items were hidden in the field, as we couldn't handle the burden. If one or two of you would follow us, we can give you back the most valuable recoveries, and direct you toward the remnants of their encampment."