GLITTERING SOUL: Part Four

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Part Four

Liana curled tighter around the body pillow, pushing her face into the blue plush snowflake blankets keeping her warm. While the swelling on her face had gone down over the last two weeks, the bruises all over her body still made it difficult to find a comfortable position in which to fall asleep. When Liana did find rest, usually it was in short spurts or it happened because she was too exhausted to keep her eyes open.

She shifted a bit more, finding a good spot and sighing blissfully. Liana felt fingertips running through her hair, and her own traced the slender side of the body beneath her. Jolting awake, Liana pulled up on one elbow to find Mare lying beneath her. Tears glossed Mare’s clear blue eyes as she reached a shaking hand up to cup Liana’s cheek, her voice hoarse, “I’m so, so sorry! I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to just come home to you—”

“You’re okay, sweetie—”

Mare shook her head, bringing a light kiss to Liana’s lips. “No, I’m not. Hadley had it right when she jumped on the very next plane out, and I’m sure I’ll catch a deserved hell from her, but I wanted to make sure that when I made it right, I made it wholly right.”

“I don’t understand.” Liana sank down to fully rest on Mare’s soft chest, holding the woman’s intense gaze. “Made it wholly right?”

“Baby, I mean that I didn’t want us to have to be parted anymore. I didn’t want us to subsist on phone calls, so I tied up loose ends in Hollyweird and put my house on the market and all my stuff in a storage facility in Henderson.” Her fingertips on Liana’s scalp sent waves of drowsiness through Liana’s body. “So I’m here with you, and when you’re ready, we’ll go home. I know you and Hadley are tight, I know it’s a package deal, but when we go home, we’ll go home together.”

Tears broke the dam of her eyelids and slipped down Liana’s cheeks. “I can’t believe this is happening. Stuff like this never happens to me. Ever—”

In a single fluid motion, Mare sat them up, holding Liana carefully in her arms, supporting her fully as she shifted so Liana rested comfortably in her lap. “It is now. I know that we happened fast, but the rest of the time we have together, in this life and all those that follow, I want to savor each moment. That means, Liana, that I’m not willing to spend another moment without you. Yeah, I know that work will part us temporarily each day, but maybe we can put our desks at least in the same room or something?”

Liana laughed through the tears falling steadily down her face. “You… gods, woman, you mean—” Liana shifted in Mare’s lap, wrapping her legs around Mare’s hips as she tried to get closer to the woman. A broken little laugh tumbled over Liana’s lips as their gazes locked in the bluish light of the moon pouring in through the window. “At risk of sounding completely stupid, dear lady, I’ve been waiting for this day, waiting for the day that someone would claim me.”

Mare giggled, leaning her forehead to Liana’s. “Consider yourself claimed, my lady.”

Liana pressed a kiss to Mare’s mouth. “What if—”

Mare shook her head. “We already know it’ll work and, ye gods, we’re so much alike, Liana! We’re old enough to recognize that a relationship cannot function on chemistry alone, and we’re wise enough to know that yeah, we’re going to have to put some work into us to keep us working.” Mare’s smooth hands gently framed Liana’s face. “And I already know that you’ve been through hell, so I want to be close. I want to stay by your side. Please allow me to do so.”

“What if one day… you decide you… love… someone more than me?” Liana whispered, almost afraid to lift her gaze to the woman she’d fallen for the instant she’d run into her in the airport now almost three weeks ago.

A single tear slipped down Mare’s cheek. “Oh, girl… that’s not ever gonna happen. Here… I’ll make this easy for you, okay?” At Liana’s nod, she continued. “In the Kennedy novel of our life, you’d be the Nico and I’d be the Caleb.”

“You read Safe?” Liana’s eyes flew open wide.

“On the plane ride to Texas. You said it was one of your favorites, so I read it.” Mare’s thumb passed over Liana’s lower lip. “And I’m never going to let someone hurt you again. Ever. I love you. Admittedly, there’s no logic to me knowing it, but neither you nor I are logical creatures. I’m also admitting that I’ve always believed in love at first sight—”

“In our case, love at first crash,” Liana joked.

“Right?!” Mare searched Liana’s eyes. “What I’m trying to say is fine, okay, let people say we’re moving too fast. I don’t care. What I care about is you and me and how we feel. Do you—”

“Yes!” Liana’s lips spread in a brilliant smile as she nodded. “Yes! I do! I mean, yes, I love you, Mare!”

“That’s all I need to know, then.” Mare tugged Liana closer still as her lips lifted to the kiss Liana gave—

 

Mare and Liana returned with Hadley to Henderson after New Year’s. Liana didn’t end up returning to her day job at the pizza shop for long. She went back to work for a month in order to train her replacement, but Mare wanted Liana to focus on her writing, so after the replacement was trained, Liana locked up after herself for the last time and finally moved on to what she had always dreamed of: being a stay-at-home author. The first day of waking up to a brand new life coincided with the first day of being pain free, which meant Liana was free to be herself entirely!

Rolling onto her side, Liana slid her hand over Mare’s collarbone. “Mornin’, beautiful lady.”

Mare’s hand slipped over the side of Liana’s neck, fingers burying in warm blonde hair as she pulled Liana into a sweet kiss. “Now it is.”

Liana smiled sleepily at her lady, falling back onto her back and tugging Mare along with her. Mare giggled, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she leaned down to press another kiss to Liana’s mouth, asking, “Writing on the boys today?”

Liana nodded. “Plan today was get up, take a shower—maybe with this beautiful lady I’m in love with—”

Mare laughed. “Would love to!”

“—go out to breakfast at this little place on Boulder Highway—”

A kiss to her chest above her heart. “Sounds like heaven.”

“Maybe dawdle around one of the two Psychic Eyes I like.” Liana arched her neck to the butterfly kisses dropped along the sensitive skin. Her hands buried in the thick sandy blonde hair she often buried her face in as she fell asleep, biting her lower lip as lithe hands slid under her tank top and up her sides.

“I’m good with that—” Liana’s words died on her lips as Mare crawled above her, an impish smile on her lips as she told Liana, “But first, my lady, you’re going to be made love to properly. No other way to start the first day of the rest of our lives than by joining our souls.”

Liana’s hands smoothed up Mare’s back, taking with them the black camisole she’d worn to bed. Mare smiled at her, sitting up on Liana’s hips. “Know that these last three months have been the best days of my life, that I wouldn’t change anything but what happened to you the first week we met.”

Removing her own top, Liana sat up, one hand cupping Mare’s jaw. “Not your fault.” Kiss. “It’s over.” Kiss. “It’s done and we’re here.” Heavy kiss, hands in each other’s hair. “And we’re together.”

Mare nodded, nipping at Liana’s lips. “We are.” Pushed closer to Liana. “Not letting you go.” Rock of her hips. “Ever!”

“Because I’d let you?” Liana rocked back, liking the friction of their curvy bodies. Her hands slid harshly over Mare’s full breasts. Her fingers pinched the taut, dusky nipples. “You’re mine—”

“Vixen!” Mare hissed, pushing Liana back onto the pillows, legs tangling in legs as Mare’s lips closed around the sensitive nipple of Liana’s left breast. Liana rocked, awash in the undertow of pleasure dragging her further and further out. Mare sped up the rhythm, her heat solid against Liana’s as she sat up once more, one hand on Liana’s bent knee. She tossed her head back, raining tousled gold over one shoulder, and Liana gasped at the sensual sight her lover made.

“Mare… gods, Mare—”

Hooded blue eyes trained on her face as Mare leaned forward, her hips quickening as Liana’s hands found home in Mare’s hair. Their mouths crashed together as Mare took them into the light—

Mare giggled, burying her face in Liana’s neck before whispering, “That was so very not how I wanted to make love to you, but Christ on a cross, woman—”

“Ye gods, Mare, don’t apologize!” Liana blushed, holding tighter to her lady. “That was singularly the sexiest thing that has ever happened to me. Baby, we didn’t even get our panties off!”

The laughter mingled into a tender kiss. Rolling to their sides, Liana pushed Mare’s hair over her shoulder, whispering, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”

“Being loved. Being adored. Being needed.” Mare smiled at her. “And so much more.” Her smiled widened. “Can’t believe I forgot to say the most important one.”

Liana nuzzled Mare’s face. “Because the others aren’t important enough?”

“Well… they go with this one, I suppose, so equally important, but yeah… this one is super-duper stupid important.” Mare cackled, stealing a kiss, her hands raking through Liana’s hair. “I love the streaks in your hair! You’re gorgeous, Liana! You’re a goddess—”

“That’s you, Mare.” Kiss. “Tell me the important one.”

“Right!” Mare kissed her tenderly. “You’re the stars, you know that?” As Liana’s cheeks filled with new color, Mare tipped up her chin, bringing their gazes together. “Which brings me to my confession.”

“Confession?” Liana asked, pulling up on one elbow.

“You said you didn’t know what you were doing. I confessed what I was doing. I am loving you. I am adoring you. I am needing you. And I’m going to create a verb from a noun for this next one.” Mare leaned on one elbow as she slid her free hand over Liana’s shoulder, fingers following the slope of Liana’s neck. “I am going to wife you.”

Liana blinked, one hand following Mare’s on her shoulder, fingers threading through Mare’s longer ones. “Wife?”

“Yeah.” Mare squeezed Liana’s hand. “What do you think?”

“Say it again!” Liana fired back. “Say it!”

“Be my wife.” Mare grinned. “Let’s do this the same way we’ve done it all.”

Liana couldn’t stop the joy flooding the banks of her soul. “Only if you’ll be my wife.”

“Because I could resist the sun that is you, Liana? You are a bright light. I know that touching you will burn, but I want to burn, want to shine, within you. Let me burn—”

Liana placed a lone fingertip to Mare’s lips, giving a slight shake of her head. “No… let us burn. Together.”

“Like Amy said in Angels Take Manhattan?” Mare suggested and Liana felt the tears slip down her cheeks at her lover’s remembrance of a beloved line.

“Exactly like Amy said. Together, or not at all!” Liana rasped, fingers trembling as they brought Mare’s palm to her lips. “And you truly are my Rory Williams.”

“And you, my beautiful, loud Scottish Amy Pond… and a soul so bright I could see it on the other side of the universe.” Mare laid Liana back on the bed again. “So let me love you the way I wanted to now… and we’ll make breakfast downtown, okay?”

Liana nodded, and she reached for Mare, knowing in that instant she would always reach for her, she would always hold her and need to be held by her, and that inside the haven of her embrace, she would always know a love brighter than any sun.

 

–FINIS–

GLITTERING SOUL: Part Three

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Part Three

She was falling.

Disoriented, Liana fought to stay upright, but nothing her hands grabbed slowed her progress and pain in her hip, followed by pain in her cheek, sent her eyes flying wide. She’d been dragged out of bed onto the guest room floor, the pain in her hip from the fall. The pain in her face, however, came from the punch dealt to her jaw—and a second one landing to her cheek—eliciting a startled cry from her lips.

“How the hell you think you gonna be allowed to make Daddy cry? Ain’t you s’posed to be the good one? The responsible one? Fuckin’ bitch!” Backhand. “Knew you experimented back in your twenties, but you a grown ass woman now.” Backhand. Liana couldn’t breathe, nor could she see what weight sat on her lungs. “You gonna listen now, or you gonna be judged momentarily.”

That voice. She knew that voice. That voice and those hands. That voice was what spurred her to move when Leigh and John had made the move from Fort Worth to Decatur. That voice had haunted her darkest nightmares and those hands, balled into fists, had left bruises so dark they’d attracted much unwanted attention. Needless to say, Liana had been forced to figure out different living arrangements to keep her from harm’s way. Off and on over the last ten years, her brother had slipped from one girlfriend and addiction to another girlfriend and sobriety, to another woman he actually married and a different addiction.

It was the addiction she hated in Darren, though at the moment, it wasn’t the addiction beating her, but the theology to which he subscribed. She curled into a ball between the day bed and the trundle, covering her head and allowing her back to take the brunt of his blows. She took herself out of the frightening situation as her brother shouted and screamed, attempting to garner a different reaction from her. Liana remembered he liked her fear, remembering whenever she’d allowed it to surface, Darren’s creative side would surface with it.

“Is that—who did that to you, LiLi?” Sherri, her general manager at the restaurant, barked, not realizing the sound would cause Liana to jump. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Come into my office, please, Liana.”

Her use of Liana’s actual name meant she was all business. Liana wouldn’t be able to misdirect or not answer questions. Dammit, Darren… dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

“Yes, ma’am.” Liana stubbed out her cigarette and left the breakroom to follow the older woman. As the door shut behind her and Sherri turned to face Liana, leaning against the front of her desk, Liana carefully hugged her arms, asking, “What can I do for you?”

“I should ask you that question, LiLi. Who put that bruise on your arm?” Sherri’s dark eyes hardened in anger.

Liana shook her head, not meeting her manager’s eyes. “I’m in the process of moving. It won’t happen again.”

Sherri reached out, drawing Liana’s attention without actually touching her. “Who?”

Liana’s hands slipped too high up her arms and she grimaced. “No, I’m taking care of this. I swear. If I need help, I will ask you. I’m not in trouble—”

“That wound says differently—”

Liana turned away, her voice trembling, not out of fear, but out of embarrassment and anger. “Am I going to be penalized if I leave this conversation here?”

“No, hon… I just—”

“And I appreciate it, but I can’t… I can’t do this right now.” Liana exited the office, out of breath, and made for the back stall of the girls’ restroom.

“Get off her, you fuckin’ psycho! Cat, get her! Get her outta here!”

Blake, her youngest brother, yanked Darren out of the room, and his wife darted into the room, slamming the door before locking it behind her. Catrina helped Liana to her feet—“Let’s get some clothes on you, hon!”—and helped her to dress.

Liana jumped as the front door burst open, and she heard her father’s voice add to the din coming from the kitchen. A light knock came at her door and Leigh called out to her, “Honey, let me in.”

Catrina hurried over to unlock it to let Liana’s mother in, keeping her eye on Liana’s weeble wobble towards the edge of the bed. Leigh gasped at Liana’s swollen and bruised face, but both ladies jumped when Liana wailed at the sight of her broken phone and laptop. Her knees went out from under her as her shaking hands touched the Toshiba which had, prior to its demise, needed replaced. Her phone… had been smashed with a boot heel.

“Baby, baby… we’ll get it replaced.” Leigh gently pushed a blonde curl over Liana’s ear. “We’ll get you fixed up and we’ll get your laptop and phone fixed up, too.”

“Can’t call her.” Liana closed her eyes and sagged against her mother. “Can’t get her calls.”

“All we have to do is get a replacement phone. I doubt that he thought to break the SIM card.” Leigh turned to look at Catrina. “Can you go do that for her? Go down to the Sprint store and get her upgrade. We’ll meet you there in a little bit. I’m going to take her to the doctor and maybe to look at computers.”

Liana shifted. “Momma… I can’t go out looking like this—”

Leigh kissed her daughter’s forehead. “We’ve done this before, remember? What did we do then?”

 

Liana laid in the hospital bed, watching the screen of her new phone. So far, she’d spoken to Hadley and Leigh had called Liana’s manager back in Vegas. Hadley was currently on a plane to Dallas and Leigh had informed Liana she liked her supervisor. Mare hadn’t called yet, and since the phone didn’t have enough space to back up, her number hadn’t been one of the ones able to be pulled from the damaged SIM card. Leigh had tried to get phone records from the phone company, but had been unsuccessful in her endeavor. All that remained to do was wait.

A text vibrated her device and she lifted her head as she unlocked her screen. Hadley.

 

Just touched down. Car should be waiting. Tell your mom to expect me shortly. Talk to M yet?

 

Liana sighed and sent her reply quickly as she called out, “Momma! Hadley’s on the ground. Should be here soon!”

“Good. Mare call yet?” Leigh asked, smiling up at Catrina when she and Blake brought in food. “Thank you, sweetheart.”

“O’course, Momma.” Blake kissed the top of her head. “Here, sis,” he murmured, setting a bag of Taco Bell food down on the pillow next to her. “Made sure you were allowed to eat it before we brought it. It’s all soft stuff so it doesn’t hurt your jaw.”

“She call you yet?” Catrina echoed. “Blake and I’ve been hoping she does!”

“Nothing yet.” Leigh shot a worried glance Liana’s way. “Still waiting.”

“Took forever, but I got it!” Everyone jumped at the strong voice of John Valentine. “Got it, dearheart.” He crossed the room in three steps, pressed a kiss to her temple and held up a box which had previously only held the remains of the computer she’d named Castiel on the Microsoft website. “My buddy was able to fix your computer—including that part on the back. I have him waiting outside, but I can bring him in if you’re okay with that.”

“That’s fine, Daddy. Blake, can you…?” Liana reached out to wrap her arms around her moose of a brother’s neck as Leigh brought her bed up into a sitting position. Catrina brought the bed table over to place the fast food on the left side as John removed the laptop from the box. The screen casing was now blue, the Toshiba logo still very much intact, and Liana giggled at the stickers still on the top right-hand corner: Twizzlers, TomboyX, Society6, and NaNoWriMo.

“Liana, this is my buddy from work, Dorian,” John introduced, shock still evident in his face even as he smiled. “Dorian, my eldest, Liana.”

“Nice to meet ya, Liana.” The man took off his Stetson and held it to his chest as he smiled at Liana, then up at Leigh. “Mrs. Valentine, nice to see you again.”

“You as well, Dorian,” Leigh murmured. “Thank you for this favor.”

“How did you get my stickers back on?” Liana asked, gratitude heavy in her eyes as she pressed the power button.”

“I used heat to remove them from the broken lid and reattached them in the same places on the new one. I also gave them a bit more adhesive to keep them smooth. I had to replace a few parts in the laptop itself, but all of the things that you need are there. You’re very good about saving and backing up to Dropbox, so you should be good with your manuscripts.” Dorian watched as she logged onto her computer, smiling at the wallpaper on the brand new screen. “I wondered if that was for one of your stories. At first I thought you were a graphic person, but your dad said you write books.”

“Yeah. I got one coming out next month, actually.” Liana opened Word and opened her current story. She took a deep breath as she saw it was still intact. “Oh, thank the gods!”

“That must be the important one, huh?” Dorian grinned. “I’m gonna give ya my card. I warranty everything I do, so… any problems, you call me, okay?”

Liana impulsively hugged the cowboy. “Thankee, thankee!”

He chuckled, hugging her carefully. “You just take care o’ yourself.”

Her phone buzzed as they broke apart, and she picked it up to see Hadley’s name on the screen. Smiling at Dorian, Liana answered it as she put it on Speaker. “Hey, Had, you’re on Speaker so Momma and Daddy can hear you.”

Oh, all right. Hiya, Li’s mom and dad! Any news on the M front?”

“Nothing yet, Had,” Catrina replied, winking at Liana as she quipped, “By the way, Cat and Blake are here, too.”

Hey, guys. I’m in traffic, but I should be there soon. Li probably will tell me—sorry, but you will and I know it after ten years, I think—she’s all right, but she’s been admitted so what’s the deal?”

Liana rolled her eyes, reopening all the programs she’d had open prior to the attack, as she listened to her mother’s answer, “The doctor’s mainly keeping her under a twenty-four hour observation because of the blows she took to her head. The rest of the contusions, though they’re pretty bad, they don’t concern him as much as the ones on her head. She’s got a few cracked ribs but no broken bones.”

So she’s most likely just—”

“A little banged up, just like I told you,” Liana groused. “Nothing to worry about so you shouldn’t have wasted—”

Hadley laughed. “But it’s my money and if I wanna waste it, I will. You’re family and I don’t have much of that. Now I’m here, silly woman, and you’re going to have to just like it.

“Wow, Li, she told you!” Blake teased. “You should take the 114 West towards Grapevine and Roanoke. Cross the 35 and take it until it hits the 287. Get on there and holler when you’re gettin’ close to Decatur.”

I will do! You, Li, you just wait!

The line disconnected and Liana leaned back gingerly against the pillows. Her vision blurred a little bit, but it wasn’t due to a malfunction with the new glasses Leigh had ordered on Walmart.com within an hour of admitting Liana to the hospital. Liana sniffled, and in seconds, John had dispersed everyone in the room, giving Blake and Catrina a couple of busywork tasks. Liana watched as he shut the door after them, and put her face in her hands to cover the tears.

The bed sank as John sat down on the side, taking her hands in his much larger ones. “Dearheart, I know you’re troubled and I know you’re scared, but this isn’t anything that He can’t handle. You just have to let Him—”

“Daddy—”

“I know.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Your mother told me… and it was one of the main things that your brother kept screaming at me.”

Liana lifted her eyes to catch her father’s green gaze, once brighter than emeralds, but age had weathered it to almost a jade color. Pain blossomed in those orbs, sending tears down her cheeks as she asked, “Are you… disappointed?”

John Valentine sighed heavily, never loosing her hands nor her gaze, and shook his head. “Not disappointed. Worried? A little.” His eyes shone with tears of his own. “A lot. A lot worried. The Word says nothing may take us from His hand, but Jesus, as I have been told by your mother, also says nothing in regards to—”

“Homosexuality?” Liana supplied, her voice small.

John sighed again, this one edged with exasperation. “There are so many references elsewhere in The Word, dearheart. It seems very like I’m being asked to pick and choose what I believe and I don’t like that.”

“I’m not asking you to do that, Daddy. I’m just asking—” Liana squeezed his hands. “I’m just asking you not to… not to—”

John shook his head, tears slipping down his weathered face. “Oh, dearheart… no, no, I never dreamed of it. Not once. I don’t know how or why you might think we’d—”

“Because of what it says!” Liana wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in his neck. “Because of Sodom and Gomorrah… and because it says in Leviticus and Romans—”

“I know. Leviticus is part of the Old Testament. The passages there pertain to the people of a different time and a different place. It’s also, as I’ve come to realize, quite a controversial subject. Some scholars—Christian scholars—debate whether or not it was the homosexuality that those two cities burned for or whether it was the treatment of foreign visitors and the threat of violence to them. And Romans… Romans is Paul’s words, his interpretation of His Word.” John kissed her hair. “You know, dearheart—”

Liana pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I would do nothing to jeopardize my relationship with you, Daddy. I waffled back and forth over the decision to tell you and then I didn’t even get to tell you, I was outed—”

“It’s over now. Whatever I might think of your lifestyle has no bearing on you being my daughter and Love certainly doesn’t require a martial punishment.” John held her tighter and Liana laid her ear to his chest, listening to the strong heart beating within.

“What’s going to happen to him, Daddy?” Her voice trembled, and she closed her eyes on the tears needing to fall now that she felt safer than she’d ever felt in her entire life. “What’s going to happen to Darren?”

“That all depends on you, Liana Jayne.” John’s tenderness—signified by his usage of the nickname he’d given her in childhood—blew her mind, and it made her almost sick to her stomach she’d ever entertained the idea her father would let her go because of his dedication to his faith. “Right now, Decatur police have him in their custody, but formal charges have not been filed. That can only be done by you.”

 

On to Part Four

GLITTERING SOUL: Part Two

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Part Two

Liana rolled onto her back as she stretched, yawning as she watched Mare sitting on the side of the trundle bed, answering a text message. The previous night had gone quite uneventfully, for the most part. John had set up the Christmas tree and Leigh, Liana and Mare set about decorating it. Leigh made them all hot chocolate and put on her favorite Elvis Presley Christmas album. It was a great time, ending in dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup. The night culminated with the two women watching television with Leigh… and John, until he fell asleep in his chair about a half hour after dinner. Curled up in front of the couch together, in a room lit only by the cheery glow of Christmas lights, they’d watched Leigh shuffle Liana’s father off to bed. As Liana had been trying to get Leigh back into Supernatural, the three of them managed to make it through two episodes before she, too, succumbed to fatigue. Afterwards, they’d retired to the room they shared for the duration of Mare’s stay.

They tugged the trundle out from under the daybed and set it up close enough that the mattresses were touching and the comforter and blankets were shared. Getting under the coverlets first, Liana watched as Mare turned out the lights and crawled across the trundle to snuggle closer to her. As her fingers threaded through Liana’s and tightened, Liana felt her heart speed up and she whispered, “Can I tell you something?”

“I want you to tell me everything, Liana.” Mare shifted a little closer, nuzzling her nose against Liana’s. “Our… chemistry… is unreal!”

Liana nodded, her smile bright. “I was thinking the exact same thing. It blows my mind that you’re here, that you’re this close, and that tomorrow morning, when I wake up, you’ll be here and not a dream.”

Mare’s lips lifted in a crooked grin. “I keep thinking the same thing.” She leaned up to press a kiss to Liana’s forehead. “I just don’t want this time together to ever end.”

Liana pushed closer to the other woman, loosing her hand to slide it into the warm silk of Mare’s hair. “Me, either.”

A giggle drew her from memory and Liana lifted her blue gaze to find Mare staring at her, chewing on the corner of her lower lip. “You have no idea how adorable you are, do you?”

“What do you mean?” Liana lifted up on one elbow, her eyes focused on Mare’s full and shiny lower lip. Gods, her lips are amazing!

A light knock came at the door as Leigh cracked it open. “We’re going to go in to town for some groceries. I know it’s early,” she whispered, able only to see Liana. “I’m fairly certain you aren’t ready to get out of bed yet. Anything you think you and your guest will need or want to eat? Also, is there anything you left back in Nevada?”

Ten minutes later, the two women listened as the front door shut and locked behind Liana’s parents. Rolling onto her side, Liana slid her hand over the flat plane of Mare’s belly, whispering, “Coffee?”

Mare’s hands slid up and into the soft waves of Liana’s blonde hair, drawing her face down as she answered, “In a minute.”

Liana nuzzled her face against Mare’s, her eyes fluttering shut as she breathed the other woman’s breath. “It feels very much like the air is charged—”

“It is,” Mare murmured next to Liana’s ear. “It’s been charged—”

“I have goosebumps all over—”

Lips pressed lightly to hers, interrupting her sentence, though Liana didn’t care as she surged into the line of Mare’s body, winding her arms around her neck, her fingers threading through warm golden hair. Opening her mouth wider to invite a deeper kiss, Liana moaned when Mare’s hands moved from her hair to rub over Liana’s chest and sides. Mare sighed against Liana’s cheek, relinquishing control to Liana even as she sucked lightly on Liana’s tongue.

Falling onto her back, she giggled as Mare crawled up over her, hooded Channel-blue eyes holding her own wide blue eyes captive. Liana’s fingers tugged Mare’s hair back, winding the thick stuff loosely around her hands as she lifted her lips to the other woman. Liana lost herself in the feel of Mare’s hands on her skin, the weight of Mare’s body on her own, the taste of her tongue and the softness of her lips, the sound of her pleasure… Mare fully intoxicated all of Liana’s senses and all she wanted was more.

Mare’s lips and teeth and tongue moved down her throat, nipping at the vein throbbing in Liana’s neck before whispering, “You… gods, I can’t seem to stop—”

Liana’s hands clenched as she arched into Mare’s touch. “Please don’t!”

Heavy footsteps in the entryway as the screen door slammed shut seconds later sent Liana giggling and shoving Mare off her as she squealed, “No, give it back!”

“Never!” Mare shouted, crawling to the other side of the trundle.

The immediate chill of their separation sent goosebumps all over her and Liana followed after her on her knees, reaching out to grab her hands as she cried out, “Give it back to me!”

“What will I get if I do?” Mare’s right eyebrow arched as her eyes sparkled in the morning sun. “A shiny nickel?”

A knock came at her doorjamb and Liana turned her face towards it, seeing her father’s face appear in the crack. “Your brother called. We’re not going to drag you out of here when you’ve not had time to get ready, but I needed to get my phone charger and I didn’t want you to worry if we were gone longer than your mother told you.”

“All right, Daddy. Thankee, thankee! I love you!” Liana favored him with a warm smile before getting off the trundle and running over to kiss his cheek. “I love you.”

John hugged her tightly, kissing the top of her head. “I love you, too, dearheart. We’ll be back soon, and I’ll call you on our way home to see what you want us to bring you home for lunch. We’ll even stop at Cracker Barrel.”

“Thankee, Daddy!” Another kiss to his cheek and seconds later, the front door shut and locked behind him.

Liana turned around to see Mare walking on her knees to the edge of the daybed, gnawing on the corner of her lower lip as she came to a stop. Her long ash-blonde hair tumbled in glorious disarray about her shoulders as she reached for Liana, whispering, “So we have a while… whatcha wanna do?”

At the arch of a slender right eyebrow, Liana could only think of one thing to do and she knew it would do nothing to get her into Mare’s heart. She also knew what she wanted to do wouldn’t slake her desire even a little bit. Be more like throwing a bottle of lighter fluid onto a bonfire. Padding over to wind her arms around Mare’s slim shoulders, Liana tangled her hands in the woman’s golden hair, her words quiet, “I feel like if I do what I want to do, the history of the world will say we’re moving too fast.”

Mare’s hands settled on Liana’s hips. “I know exactly what you mean.” She nuzzled her face against Liana’s, their lips brushing briefly. “Tell me what you want from me, Liana.”

“I think it would be easier to tell you what I don’t want from you.” Liana swallowed hard, biting her own lip as Mare caught and held her gaze, waiting for her to speak. Gods, what do I say? What do I not say? Exhaling a shaky breath, she gave in. “I want to know what it feels like to wake up to you every day.” Tearing her gaze from the other woman’s, she finished, “I want our conversation from last night to be a reality. I don’t want our time together to ever end.”

Slender fingers slid over her cheek and into her hair. “I don’t see why it has to end, Liana. I don’t have any pressing commitments. I know that you’re down here to visit your parents at Christmas, so I know that I can’t be the only thing you’re—”

“But you are,” Liana interjected, a shy smile forming on her lips. “You are the only thing I can seem to think about.”

Mare blushed. “You seem to be all I can think about right now, too.” Pressing a quick kiss to Liana’s lips, she continued, “I just mean, I know I can’t be your main priority—because Christmas—but I can be here when you do what you came to do and I can whisk you away if it doesn’t go the way you want it to go.” Her smile turned a little shy. “I mean… I understand that we can’t just jump into this, but gods, do I wanna.”

“I know, right?” Liana gave a dry laugh. “It’s like, if we were only ten years younger, then—”

“—we’d have the ten years to get to know each other, not react on desire, become a confusing insta-love slammed on Goodreads—”

Liana laughed out loud. “Don’t forget be likened in some way to a Hunger Games knock-off… or Twilight, if either of them were gay!”

Mare threw her head back and joined Liana in her mirth as for a long time, neither woman could do anything but succumb to comfortable joy.

 

It was with great reluctance that Liana helped Mare to the security checkpoint. They laughed as they joked back and forth about their favorite parts in the last Supernatural episode they’d watched with Leigh, one from the second season called Tall Tales. Mare clutched Liana, mimicking Sam, “I’m here for you! Brave little soldier! I acknowledge your pain!”

Liana giggled. “I loved that episode! Loved the Trickster. Next time, we should watch Changing Channels and we can say all the lines with them—”

Son of a bitch!” they exclaimed together, quoting one of Dean’s opening lines from the mentioned episode.

Quieting down a long minute later, Liana murmured, “I’ve had a really good time, y’know, these past few days. I really hope we get to do this again.”

“It’s been exactly what I needed as well. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.” Mare wrapped her arms around Liana, hugging her tightly. “I’ll text you when I get in, okay? And I’ll tell you tonight when I’m going to come back, and sweetie, I’m really going to try to make it Christmas Eve day, okay? I want to spend Christmas with you.”

Liana nodded, pressing a kiss to the crook of Mare’s neck. “I will look for your text and your call.”

Mare tugged begrudgingly from their embrace, the joy in her smile glowing like the sun as she waved at Liana. “Talk to you in a bit.”

“I’ll look for your call, sweetie.” Liana hugged her arms, smiling back, before watching Mare show her ticket and identification to the checkpoint agent. Liana watched Mare load her things into the x-ray machine before passing through the body scanner. It wasn’t until Mare’s feet were back in her Uggs and her satchel strap was across her chest once more, that she turned to meet Liana’s gaze. Those blue eyes softened as they darted down to her phone, her fingers moving fast as they formed a text, one that lifted her gaze to Liana’s a final time as she waited. Liana dug her phone out of her pocket and it vibrated in her hand, startling her even as she chastised herself for not expecting it. Unlocking the screen, she read:

 

Do you want me to fall in love with you, Liana? I’m telling you I could.

 

Liana’s mouth dropped open and one hand went to cover it as her eyes sought out Mare’s face… and the woman nodded, as if answering the silent question of Are you serious? Liana typed her answer without second guessing herself.

 

What makes you think I’m not already in love with you? That I’m not already yours?

 

Her cheeks filled with color, but she hit Send and waited for the visual reaction. Mare bit her lower lip as she smiled shyly at Liana, mouthing, You are, y’know. You’re mine!

Liana nodded, bringing one hand up to cover her heart, a smile turning up the corners of her lips before she mouthed back, And you’re mine!

A hand slid across her shoulders and Liana turned to find her mother standing next to her. Leigh’s smile warmed her daughter’s heart and she slid her hand up to cover her mother’s as she turned her gaze back to Mare’s beautiful countenance. Liana tried to memorize Mare, every curve and shadow and wisp of flyaway blonde hair, whispering, “Momma… can I tell you something?”

Leigh pressed a kiss to her temple. “You can tell me anything, honey.”

Liana took a deep breath as her smile tightened, concerning Mare, who looked down at her phone, typing a text. Liana looked down at the screen when her phone buzzed in her hand.

 

Are you telling her?

 

Liana gave a single nod, turning to Leigh as she opened her eyes wide. “Momma… I’ve never ever known something as intensely as I know it now, and I know that you know what I write, and I know that you don’t like the content, but that you’re glad it makes me happy. It’s just, I never felt it necessary to tell you this until now because there… was really nothing to tell.”

Leigh furrowed her brow, her statement sounding more like a question. “Honey, I don’t understand?”

Liana cautiously met her mother’s worried look, swallowing hard. “Momma… I’m… I’m gay.” Taking a shallow breath, she glanced down before darting her eyes to where Mare stood, amazement and pride clear in the small smile sparkling in her eyes. Taking courage from her lady, Liana finished, “I’ve consciously known since college, and when I look back to some of my actions in high school, I think I probably knew then, too.”

Leigh nodded, her blue-gray eyes ticking to Mare and back to Liana. “Are the two of you seeing each other?”

Liana blushed, hissing, “I’d like to see her again, Mom, but you saw us meet for the first time. You were there.”

“Did the two of you—” Leigh broke off, shaking her head and hugging Liana, nearly bringing her to tears. “It doesn’t matter. All that matters is your happiness.”

Liana’s mouth fell open as the tears that had been so close slipped down her cheeks. “You—you aren’t—you aren’t disappointed?”

Leigh pressed a kiss to her daughter’s cheek. “I know what you must think sometimes, and is it a life I wish for you? No, but we can talk about that later. First, send her off properly.”

“What?”

Leigh laughed, and Liana believed her mother in that moment. Whirling on her heel, she called Mare’s name. The woman who’d been an integral part of Liana’s life since her early twenties, ran to the exit door with her bag and tossed herself into Liana’s arms. Liana’s mouth found Mare’s full one as Mare’s smooth arms wrapped around Liana’s shoulders. Liana giggled, holding tight to Mare as she spun them in a slow circle and nuzzled Mare’s nose.

“I take it she’s okay, yeah?” Mare whispered, stealing another kiss. “She’s okay with us?”

“She told me to send you off properly!” Liana answered, enthusiasm heavy in her voice. “I mean, I know it’s going to be hard, but—” She cut herself off, lifting another kiss to Mare’s lips. “—I can kiss you and not worry!”

“Then kiss me, lady!” Mare teased, and Liana lost herself once more.

 

On to Part Three

GLITTERING SOUL: Part One

Glittering Soul E-Book Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part One

Liana Valentine watched out the window as the airplane made its final descent, piloted cautiously by the captain she’d not actually caught the name of as she’d hurriedly put away her iPod and fastened her seatbelt. As she’d flown the three hours from Las Vegas to Dallas-Fort Worth, Liana had talked herself out of being a chickenshit.

After all, isn’t this whole trip about coming out? Isn’t it about finally being totally and completely me? Aren’t I strong? Don’t I have pride?

Looking down at the ground rapidly growing closer, her eyes following the curves of Denton Creek, Liana pushed the fat gold ringlet of her ponytail over her shoulder. Closing her eyes as she spun the rainbow ring around the third finger of her right hand, she whispered, “You are okay. You are not evil. You are not tainted. Always keep fighting, right?”

Always. Proud of all my scars.

The wheels of the aircraft smoothly took to the runway and Liana pursed her lips, digging out her blue iPod and plugging in her headphones. One of her employees at work had told her the Beats headphones were not what an audiophile would choose, but Liana loved them. Slipping into them as the plane taxied to the gate, Hozier’s anthem, “Take Me to Church” worked to build her confidence once more. Slipping into the black sleeves of her hoodie and zipping up the front, Liana pushed her glasses up her nose and straightened her black cap before shoving the sleeves up her forearms. The six-month old tattoo screamed strength at her, Always Keep Fighting. Winchesters and Fire. Proud of All My Scars.

The gentleman sitting in front of her turned around, reaching up to the overhead compartment as he darted a glance back at her. Liana knew he was hoping to talk to her again, but she adjusted the volume on her iPod, hoping what she was doing was visible. Shoving the music into the hoodie’s left front pocket, she twisted her hand in the satchel’s long leather strap and tugged it up into her lap. Closing her eyes, she sent up a silent prayer to the gods for courage as she hummed along with the Irish bard. Looping the strap over her head, she checked for her phone and took it off Airplane Mode. Instantly, it adjusted the time and she shot off a text to her mother.

 

Almost to the gate. You and Dad at the baggage claim?

 

Her phone buzzed in her hand not ten seconds later, her mother’s reply sending a smile across her lips.

 

We are. Just waiting on you to get here. It’s been so long, honey. We’re both so excited to see you finally.

 

“Will you be when we speak over dinner tonight?” She couldn’t help but say it out loud as she moved into the aisle, following the slowly moving line of passengers disembarking. “Or will I need to find a hotel?”

Hozier’s song on repeat in her ears, Liana thought about the events leading up to this moment. Her original plan had been to never tell them until she had a lady she loved, one she knew she’d love forever, and most importantly, one who loved her back. When she’d come out to her best friend Hadley MacClay in 2009, that had been the plan. When you know you can exist without them, that’s when you tell them something like this, her best friend had told her. The advice had been sound, but as the climate changed towards the LGBT culture she’d finally allowed herself to become a part of, as gay marriage began to take the world by storm, Liana found herself unable to keep letting others fight for her. Becoming more at home in her own skin, dating girls who were just not the right women for her—driving to a different state for one of them—helped her to acclimate to her not so newly found sexuality.

It was, of course, then that her writing took a wild curve and she found her niche. Liana Valentine found both solace and joy in writing gay romance. It took a few years before she could bring herself to publish, but then… then she discovered an entire community of support. People without real faces but bright, bright souls, support and love and more positivity than she’d ever really known. Always having been a geek and knowing the love of true geekdom, when she discovered many of her new friends also loved the same television shows and movies she did, and when she found WinchesterBros.com, Liana felt like she was home. Finally home. While it was her little brother who had gotten her into Supernatural, the Winchester brothers themselves (and the actors who played them) had made quite the impression on her. Her social media friends had compounded that love with memes and discussion, and not long after the 2014 holidays, when Jared Padalecki lost a friend to depression, Always Keep Fighting was born.

Having suffered from depression since her early teens, and having desired another tattoo for years, when Jared’s need to fight back against the debilitating disease resulted in the AKF campaign, Liana knew what she wanted to put on her body. She also knew where she wanted to put it. A trip to a tattoo artist on Memorial Day resulted in a reminder on her left forearm she would see every single day, the words wrapping around the anti-possession symbol that would become her mantra: Always Keep Fighting and Proud of All My Scars.

How appropriate the tattoo became hers on Memorial Day. How appropriate it would heal so easily. Liana saw it as a sign from the Powers That Be she’d not possessed a lack in judgment when making the decision to put it on her forearm where she and everyone else could see it. I am proud of all my scars. Every single one of them.

After Memorial Day, things kind of slid downhill in both her personal and professional lives. Her personal life as well as her professional life as a writer suffered because the job at a pizza shop took over seventy-five percent of her days. Her day and half-day off went down to one day off a week. (Well, not actually off, considering she stayed in contact with her store during said day off.) Hadley had always monitored her, considering it had been her idea to move Liana out of Texas and into Nevada for a fresh start; when Liana became overwhelmed, it was Hadley who’d bring it to her attention. Once October hit and Liana’s vacation became available to schedule, she managed to get the second week of December. Hadley told her to go home and see her family, to get some rest… and to write!

Liana told Hadley it was time.

“Are you sure? I mean, really sure, Liana?” Hadley’s expressive blue eyes widened and she reached out one hand to touch Liana’s arm. “I mean… what if—?”

“What if they disown me? Well, then, I’ll come home and I’ll take some time off somehow, and maybe finish a book or three. Hope they sell.” Liana shrugged. “But it’s time. It’s past time. If they love me the way they say they do, the way they always have, then we’ll get through this the way that we got through me telling them that I’m not a Christian.”

Hadley nodded, saying nothing. The sad smile that stayed on her lips told Liana she was proud of her, but that she worried and that was okay with Liana.

Liana worried, too.

Dragging her blue suitcase behind her, the Scotland luggage tag clacking in time with the wheels on the tile in E Terminal, Liana touched the volume control on her headphones and soon, she heard nothing but “Take Me to Church.” Pushing through the exit out to baggage claim, she forced down her roiling gut to paste a tired smile on her lips—

“Ow!”

The sound of pain sent her free hand shoving down the headphones as she turned to see a woman rubbing her elbow furiously with her other hand. The woman looked familiar to Liana, but her frazzled mind refused the identification, and Liana reached out a hand, whispering, “Are you okay? I was kinda lost in my own mind and I didn’t see you there on the other side of the glass.”

“Oh, it’s my damn fault for standing so close to an exit door a billion people are going to use, but yeah, I’m okay. Thanks for asking. Probably just a bruise.” Her blue-gray eyes sparkled ruefully, and when her lips quirked up in a crooked smile as she brushed her sandy blonde hair over her shoulder, Liana blinked, recognition hitting her like a brick to the head.

That… is Mare Wingfield. Freaking Mare Wingfield is in Texas? Why? And how did I get so lucky to meet her up close and in person?

“Oh, gods! My apologies for the injury. You’re… a writer, right?” Good one to go with. Don’t tell her that she was your first girl crush and that you wanted to be the girl who played her girlfriend on television! Tell her you’ve read her books. All of them. Liana smiled gently, tucking a stray lock of blonde hair behind her ear before readjusting the black cap on her head. “You wrote the Carmalogian Series!

The woman blushed, nodding, pushing her straight, soft hair over her ears. “I did, yes! You’ve read it?”

“You’re Mare Wingfield. I’ve read pretty much everything you’ve published. You are kind of one of my heroes. Well, you and Cody Kennedy.” Liana felt her cheeks fill with more color.

“Oh, I like him. His works are so evocative!” Mare gushed. “And so perfectly poignant when it comes to our LGBT youth! My favorite is the one he released this year—”

Slaying Isidore’s Dragons? Oh, I can’t decide which I like best. I’d probably go with Omorphi since it was my first Kennedy.” Liana grinned. “I’m a Kennedian for life!”

Mare laughed. “I like that! It should go on a shirt!” An announcement overhead interrupted their conversation and it made Mare groan. “Seriously? I swear that plane is never going to get here. My flight’s been delayed since five this morning… and the announcement just said that it would be delayed indefinitely since the airline has to call another plane to the hub.”

“Well, we were just about to take Liana to lunch,” Liana heard her father, John Valentine, interject before wrapping his daughter in a tight hug and kissing the top of her head. “I don’t see why you would need to stay here. Any friend of Liana’s is a friend of ours, right, honey?”

Liana smiled brightly as she looked over at her mother, who nodded. “Right, honey! And I think it’s super that Liana finally gets to meet you, Miss Wingfield. She’s loved you since you were on that—”

“Mom!” Liana hissed. “No!”

Mare laughed out loud, folding her hands as she covered her mirth with them, but her eyes twinkled as she looked at Liana. “I would say busted! But if I did, I’d have to say that about most of my fans! It’s how I got started!”

Liana snorted, winking at the woman. “But how many of them can say that they tried to run you over at the airport?”

“Definitely, you are second to none, Liana!” Mare giggled quietly, shouldering her satchel as Liana’s dad followed with, left eyebrow arched. “She’s my oldest, and she’s always been stubborn—”

“Oh, I wonder where I get it, Daddy!” Liana quipped, her smile growing wider as she watched her father grasp the handle to her suitcase and hold out his hand to Mare. She touched the woman’s arm, saying, “He wants to carry your bag for you.”

“Your suitcase, Liana!” Her mother moved over to tug Liana’s bag over the rim of the bag belt as Mare allowed John to shoulder her carryon.

Sharing a long look with Mare, Liana felt her cheeks flush with color. Ye gods, she’s even more beautiful in person… and I just can’t take my eyes off her! “It’s no use arguing with them. They always win!”

“My mom’s the same way,” Mare replied with warm smile. “And please, call me Mare, everyone.”

“I’m John!” Liana’s father grinned. “And this is my wife, Leigh.”

Leigh Valentine offered her hand. “I’ve read a couple of your books, too. You’re a wonderful writer.”

Mare blushed, shaking Liana’s mother’s hand. “Thank you for the compliment.”

“Now, let’s get out of this place. We’re heading out to Liana’s favorite restaurant, El Fenix.” John flashed a smile at them before taking off at his own pace, expecting them to follow immediately.

Leigh shook her head, giving Liana a sidelong glance. “Your Daddy is so excited to have you home.”

The simple comment intended to convey familial love, sent a cold stone dropping into the pit of her stomach, but Liana thought she covered it well as she smiled back at her mother. “I’m excited to be home, Momma.”

I’m not excited to steal away the happiness of this moment, but man, it’s going to be bad. It’s going to be so, so bad.

 

Liana leaned back in the booth, taking a long drink of her Dr. Pepper as she listened to her dad telling a story about Liana and her brother Darren when they were young. Reaching out one hand, Liana touched Mare’s leg as she leaned in to quip, “He exaggerates. I would never—”

“—do a dead drop off a roof? I must admit, it’s hard to imagine, but then again, I have been thirteen and bored.” Mare grinned, one hand covering Liana’s on her thigh. She didn’t move her hand, just covered Liana’s, squeezing it.

“Well, I think I’m going to go to the bathroom,” Leigh interjected, patting John’s leg. “Why don’t you go pay and we’ll meet back here in a few minutes?”

“All right, Mama.” John turned to kiss Leigh’s cheek before sliding out of the booth and holding out a hand to help her stand.

“Liana, baby, we’ll be right back. No rush.” John smiled warmly at Liana before hurrying over to the cashier.

Mare still held her hand, threading their fingers as she turned slightly in the booth, whispering, “They don’t know, do they?”

“No. It was my intent to tell them today.” Liana leaned her head back against the tall seat, sighing, unwilling to stop holding the other woman’s hand.

“What’s stopping you? Is it me being here?” Mare’s lips spread in a crooked smile, her blue eyes sparkling. “I would think that having someone at your side would be a boon, not a bane.”

“And it is, but I just met you. I don’t want you to be caught in the middle of the war I helped to instigate by coming out—”

Mare squeezed Liana’s hand gently. “Liana, I’d be honored to be at your side during that moment, so if you want it, then just tell me and we’ll make it happen.”

Liana blinked, unable to quell the smile on her lips as she nodded. “It’ll be ugly—”

“Only if they make it so… but if it is, I don’t want you to be alone.” Holding out her free hand, Mare spoke again. “Give me your phone.”

Liana did as she was asked, watching as Mare put herself in Liana’s contacts before handing her own phone to Liana. “Would you do me the honor?”

“This day… man, this day is just—” Liana laughed out loud as she took the proffered device and put her info into the contacts database. “—it’s just blowing my mind.”

Mare turned Liana’s left arm over as she saw the tattoo, one fingertip tracing the star inside a circle of flames. “Always Keep Fighting… so you’re a survivor, too?”

Liana nodded. “It wasn’t an easy childhood, and adolescence was no picnic, either. At the first sign—” She took a deep breath. “I think I probably knew when I was seven.”

“I know what you mean. I knew I liked both when I was twelve.” Mare lowered her eyes, irises such an incredible blue Liana had never been able to look away from them, looking up at Liana through long pitch lashes. “I had this huge crush on Lynda Carter. I remember that, uhm, my mother thought I wanted to be her—and I did, sure—but what I wanted to do more than anything in all of my twelve years as I watched her and Patrick Duffy kiss and make love in Daddy, was be Patrick Duffy. I wanted to kiss her, feel her body soft against mine.”

Liana laughed softly, nodding. “Me, too.”

“Liana, did you want to stop by The British Emporium on our way home?” Leigh asked as she slid into the booth once more. “Your daddy suggested we get you some tea and some of those chocolates, now that the embargo’s lifted.”

“British Emporium?” Mare echoed. “Tell me that you’re not holding out on me, Liana! There’s an English food store close by?”

And so, an hour later found Liana and Mare with Leigh in the small specialty shoppe in Grapevine, giggling over Doctor Who memorabilia and loading their baskets up with candies and biscuits and tea. Leigh chuckled as she followed them through the shoppe, leaning through them to take the basket when they stopped to talk. “It’s like you took a step back, Liana Galatea, back to high school!”

Blushing at the usage of her middle name, Liana shot back, “How?”

“Unable to walk and talk at the same time?” Leigh kissed Liana’s cheek. “I’m just playing with you. I’ll take this up to the counter to pay. Does she know when she has to be back at the airport?”

Liana glanced over at Mare, who’d answered a telephone call while she spoke to her mother, and shook her head. “I don’t think so, no, but I’ll find out.”

“No rush. I’ve an idea that might make things easier for us all. I know that your daddy’s getting tired, so I’ll pay for this stuff and I’ll be right back.” Kissing Liana’s cheek, Leigh headed over towards the counter while Liana turned back around, reaching out to touch Mare’s arm as an edge crept into the other woman’s voice.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She shook her head. “This kind of service is completely unacceptable and you are lucky that good things have come of this delay. We’ll do this, then. You’ll note the horrible service your company has given me the past twelve hours and continues to give me, and when I’m ready to fly, you’re footing the bill. Do I wish to what? Well, I’m going to have to get a hotel room, so I’ll—”

Liana shook her head. “You can stay with us. Mom and Dad won’t let you stay by yourself out here and it’d be an honor for me. I can pick your brain all night!”

Mare took Liana’s hand, her cheeks pinking as she turned back to the call. “I’ll be in touch.” Hanging up, she leaned her forehead to Liana’s shoulder. “They called to tell me that if I wanted to fly on their airline, it would be morning before I’d get out of DFW. If I wanted to travel on another company, they’d certainly call around to get it covered, but it’d likely be late before I’d get a flight.”

“Holidays.” Liana commented, squeezing her hand. “Come home with me.”

Mare locked gazes with Liana, nodding towards Leigh standing in line to pay. “And if they don’t react well, then what?”

“Then we’ll get that hotel you told the rep about on the phone.” Liana wondered how Mare would react to the word we.

“Deal.” Giving Liana’s hand an encouraging squeeze, Mare smiled shyly over at her. “I don’t know why I trust you so quickly, Liana, but I do and I hope you feel the same. I’m glad we met.”

Liana smiled back, unable to resist teasing the beautiful woman. “So then… you’re glad I hit you with a door?”

Mare laughed. It was the single most beautiful sound Liana had ever heard and she memorized it, searing the moment onto her soul before joining Mare in a fit of giggles that had Leigh shaking her head as she watched the two of them. Liana held tightly to Mare’s hand, leaning against her as their laughter dissolved into a hug, only one thought in her mind.

Is this what it feels like to find your one true?

 

On to Part Two

About: GLITTERING SOUL

Glittering Soul E-Book Cover

For quite some time, I’ve been needing this silly story to come out of me. I tried once, years ago, to write a full story about two lovely ladies who fall in love, but I slammed into a wall about four chapters into it. After a couple of years, I tried to pick it back up, but still the infernal women resisted.

When Kellie Dennis of Book Cover By Design posted this pre-made cover, I snatched it up without a second thought. I knew what I would title it– my friend Rai had told me I had to write a story about GLITTER. I told Kellie, “It’ll be called Glittering Soul.”

As a closeted lesbian to my blood family, I began to write a story–not so loosely based on my own life–about a woman who finally goes home to see her family at Christmastime. She’s made the decision to come out to her parents, though she has no clue as to how they will react. This was a decision I’d made when I thought I was going to be able to go home this past Christmas. I’d decided it was time. Now, I write gay romance, though my choice genre is usually M/M. Finally, finally… the ladies were talking, and I bring to you, Glittering Soul.

BLURB:

Liana Valentine has lived with her best friend Hadley MacClay in Las Vegas, Nevada for almost ten years. In that time, she’s become her own woman, and she’s finally started to live the dream she’s dreamt for so long, being a published author. After a bad bout of depression early in 2015, she’s committed herself to being strong, to being herself, and that includes finally coming out completely. She books a ticket home to Texas for the holidays, set on becoming secret free sans a woman to love. Stars collide in a crash at baggage claim, setting her vacation on an entirely new course… one she isn’t certain she’ll be able to live through!

 

On to Part One

NEVER SEE THE LIGHT: Chapter Eight– Not Without You

Never See the Light_XSmall

PLEASE BE AWARE: The following chapter is a HUGE spoiler if you have not read Butterflies are Free. I have hidden the text below the spacing for those that do not wish to continue until after they’ve read it. 🙂 That being said… onwards!

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Japanese Glossary

20 October 2013
Los Angeles, California

His mobile rang loudly, jolting him from his peaceful doze on the porch swing. Fishing it out of his jeans pocket, he put it to his ear, answering, “Moshi moshi?”

“Nowaki, it’s Lindsay. I need you to come to the hospital—we’re at Cedars-Sinai. He’s gonna… he’s gonna need you… it’s all my fault—”

At the word hospital, Lindsay Trevelyan had his full attention as he bolted up into a sitting position, feet flat on the wooden verandah floor. “What happened? Linds, are you okay? What do you mean, it’s your fault?”

“Ísarr and I got into a terrible fight. He left and—” She broke off as Nowaki heard in the background, “If you’ll follow me, Mr. Trevelyan-Marlowe, I’ll take you to your husband.” Those words sent a shockwave of grief through Nowaki as he remembered similar ones being said to him upon Xiaolong’s death.  “He left and—and he was hit by a car—we’re in the morgue, Nowaki—”

“I’m on my way, Linds. Be there soon.” Nowaki reeled as he ended that call and placed another to OB.

It rang twice before he answered, “Yeah, Nowaki, what can I do for you?”

“Have Tsu-kun ready. You can come, too, if you like. You’ll probably ease his pain. A friend of ours needs us because his husband just died. Emrys… he lost Ísarr today.” Nowaki growled, slamming his fist into a wall. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. The two of you, please be ready.”

“Yes, sir. We will. Thanks, man.” His voice was gruff, and it surprised Nowaki, who asked, “For what?”

“For including me.” OB took a deep breath. “We’ll be ready.”

Hurrying inside, he grabbed his keys and wallet, shoving them in his pockets as he ran out to the garage. Seconds later, he was exiting the property, calling Xavier on his mobile.

He’s going to be sleeping now, I know it.

On the second call, just as he was pulling into the drive at the Canicus Campus, leaning over to open the passenger door, Xavier’s sleepy voice finally came over the line. “Beautiful man… is everything okay?”

“Xavier… I need you here as soon as possible. Emrys needs us. It’s imperative. Get sleep on the jet. Call me with your arrival time. Tsu-kun, OB and I are on our way to Cedars-Sinai.” He took a deep breath. “Aishiteiru! Isogu, anata!”

“Hai! Aishiteiru!”

Pocketing his mobile, Nowaki glanced over at his son, reaching out to curve his hand over the boy’s skull as he whispered, “I love you more than anything… anything, Tetsuo. You are my whole world, you and your papa. I hope you know this.”

“I do. Always, Chichi.” Pressing a kiss in Nowaki’s palm, he finally asked, “Why are we going to a hospital, Chichi? You said that Emrys was there. Is he okay?”

“Emrys needs us, musuko-chan. Ísarr was in a car accident… and he didn’t make it.” As they stopped at a red light, Nowaki turned to look at his son, tears in his eyes for the loss of a man who’d been so alive, a man that Tetsuo had gotten to know fairly well.

A man that Emrys loved… a man that loved Emrys so intensely and so well.

Carefully watching his face, Nowaki smiled at the large hand that appeared on Tetsuo’s shoulder as OB leaned forward from the backseat, saying, “I’m here for you, Rocky J. I won’t let you go this alone.”

Tetsuo sniffled, dragging the heels of his hands over his eyes as he nodded, a small smile touching his lips as he glanced up at his friend. “You never call me that outside of ops. I don’t think you’ve ever called me that, actually. I thought that was just my server name… and—”

“I can’t be Moose without you, Squirrel,” he teased, something Nowaki hadn’t ever seen him do; usually he was far too serious to do much teasing.

His good-natured jest had the desired effect, and Tetsuo laughed lightly. “Oh, you are still Moose, just not Bullwinkle… without your short sidekick Rocky.”

“Exactly… and this moose won’t let this flying squirrel go this alone. When Nowaki has to hold Emrys together, I’ll keep you together, too.” He squeezed Tetsuo’s shoulder again. “We’re family—”

“And family doesn’t stop at blood, OB.” Nowaki smiled at him as the light finally turned green and he turned back to the road, glancing up at OB in the rearview. “Please remember that.”

“Yes, sir. I will, sir.” He smiled softly as he remained upright, a hand to Tetsuo’s shoulder for the rest of the drive.

They parked near the front entrance to the hospital, hurrying in to ask directions to the morgue from a security guard. He led them downstairs to the basement, and to the check-in desk while he opened the doors to call out to the coroner. A short rotund man with a bushy red beard came out, shutting the doors behind him as he thanked the guard.

Looking up at the three of them, he gave a small smile before he said, “Hello, I’m Davis. I’m very glad that you were so quick to arrive. He’s in bad shape, obviously. As an FYI, there exists a bit of tension between him and the girl that arrived with him. I’m not sure what happened there, but I am certain that the death of his husband will exacerbate the situation. As I told Mr. Trevelyan-Marlowe, I would like to do an autopsy to find out if his husband died prior to being thrown into the ocean.”

Nowaki nodded, motioning to the entrance. “Can we—?”

Davis smiled again, stepping aside. “Oh, sure… sure. Go ahead.”

Nowaki took hold of Tetsuo’s hand as they pushed through the doors, OB behind them, Nowaki’s copper eyes filling with tears at the grief-ravaged face of his best friend outside of his husband and his brother. Emrys’ eyes were bruised underneath, his face red and wet, and he sniffled at the sight of them. Nowaki and Tetsuo wrapped him in their arms, Nowaki rasping, “We’re here, buddy… we’re here… gods, Em… we’re here.”

NOWAKI HAD SUGGESTED that they all go back to his place, but Emrys wished to return to the flat above the bookshop, though after showing Tetsuo and OB to their rooms, he did not wish to stay in the bedroom he’d shared with Ísarr. He changed into Ísarr’s pyjama bottoms and one of his favorite tee-shirts, but he did not wish to stay in their room. Nowaki tossed his jacket over the chest at the end of the bed, running his fingers through his hair after he slipped the sweater he wore over his head and kicked off his shoes.

What would I do if I had to go through this again? But I don’t have to, I don’t have to because Xavier and I are forever now, literally. How can this be happening to our friend? How can he have found it so quickly, just to lose it? Even Xavier and I got seven years our first go, but two weeks? It seems like such a slap in the face for something so priceless.

Sitting down on the bed, he tugged his mobile out of his pocket to see a text on its face from Xavier.

Call went to voice mail, beautiful
man. I’m taking a Canicus jet from
New York and I should be arriving
at LAX around two in the morning.
I’ve already got a car booked with
Canicus, so it’ll be waiting. See you
soon, Nowaki. You are my heart.

A glance up at the notifications bar showed a missed call, one he was certain was from Xavier.

“He left the house at 4.16 and the coroner determined that his time of death was 4.42. Twenty-six minutes. I had twenty-six minutes in which to save him and I spent it trying to save their relationship instead of trying to save my husband, Nowaki… twenty-six minutes.”

The soft voice with a hitch in it broke his heart and Nowaki looked up at the reflection in the mirror to see his friend standing in the doorway of his room, blanket wrapped around his shoulders, tears slipping down his cheeks. Pivoting on his heel, Nowaki faced Emrys, whispering, “I had fourteen seconds from the time Xiaolong was shot until the time he slipped from this world.”

“I had an eternity compared to you—”

“But Xiaolong lay in my arms and I had the ability to watch him die—”

Emrys nodded miserably. “Ísarr was alone to my knowledge… neither situation was preferable.” Tears slipped down his face. “I don’t know…” he began, closing his eyes. “I don’t know… how… what did I do… gods, I’m so incredibly selfish—” Emrys opened his gaze upon Nowaki’s own shiny one. “Here I am, thinking only about meself when… it happened to Ísarr. He’s the one who really paid… paid with his life. I should be praying that his soul went somewhere peaceful and that he really didn’t feel any pain… I should be, shouldn’t I?”

Nowaki moved quickly to his friend, wrapping him up in a hug as he shut the door behind him. “If it makes you feel better, it’s okay to be selfish right now. I guarantee that Ísarr is raging against the Veil, angry that he was taken from you.” Pressing a kiss to Emrys’ hair, he murmured, “Sorrow is natural, as is the anger that such beauty was torn from you. It’s natural to feel both, and so very hard to transform either into peace, to let go—”

Emrys sagged against his frame. “When do I stop lettin’ go? How many times do I have go through this? The difference here is that he loved me back! Kiyoshi loved me as a mate, but Ísarr—he loved me entirely. He loved me entirely… with all of his soul… and heart… and body. He loved me exactly the way I loved him!”

Nowaki’s tears poured down his face when Emrys finally gave into the grief ravaging his soul, burying his face in Nowaki’s chest with a muffled scream. Nowaki lifted him easily into his arms, carrying him over to the bed and settling against the headboard to hold his friend and silently grieve with him as Emrys fell apart, giving way at first into sobs that were full body. Each of his cries ripped through Nowaki’s soul, and the pain it exhumed reminded not of Xiaolong’s death, but of the moments watching Xavier leave after they’d broken up in 2000.

And every other time I saw him, where our eyes would catch and I would see the agony I felt, the longing I felt to run to him and beg him to come home, to tell him that I was wrong, that I was stupid, that I changed my mind. Every time I heard his voice on the phone with Tetsuo. Every time Tetsuo put up a new photo on his corkboard. Every story that I would hear from him—god, the physical agony of Xavier being gone but not. Nothing in life could compare to that horrific experience… except for not having him at all. Losing him—

Nowaki slowly ran his fingers through Emrys’ russet curls and down his back as he tried to calm his friend, his own tears falling faster at his own musings.

I missed Xiaolong, and I loved him, yes. We claimed each other, yes, but we harbored no delusions as to whom we belonged to and with: Xavier was my true mate, while Ranmaru-san was his. My grief for Xiaolong was both selfish and not. I missed him madly, for he was my best friend and my lover and… I missed him because it meant that I was finally alone. Alone to officially go through pain I had put on the backburner. My grief became anger at being deprived of my best friend and the lover that was stolen from me, that lover being Xavier.

Leaning his head back against the headboard, Nowaki sniffled as his eyes ticked to the blue LED of the bedside clock, finding the time to be almost eight.

I cannot wait to see him again. I need to see him smile at me, to see him reach for me… as I know that he will give me strength to help Emrys.

So lost in thoughts filled with empathy, Nowaki did not notice at first that Emrys had quieted. Feeling his breathing finally evening out, he pushed his hair from his face to see that the sorrow had finally spent itself for the moment, and Nowaki sighed in relief as he slid down to wrap around his friend. Pulling Emrys’ back to his chest and tangling his legs in the Welshman’s, Nowaki reached behind him to turn the lamp off.

“I’m here for you, my friend, and I will hold you while you surf the tide of dreams. I will pray you only find good dreams during this brief respite from the world, but know also that I will still be here when you wake and I will not leave you alone.”

For hours, Nowaki held Emrys, running his fingers through his hair and rubbing his back to keep him relaxed and in a mad attempt to keep his slumber peaceful. He started to doze just before midnight, and the last time he looked at the clock, it was 12.13 in the morning. He woke with a start when the bed shook and Emrys howled, “No! No! No… no, no, no, no… nooooo…no, it’s not right, not fair. He can’t be… gods, he can’t be—”

Nowaki’s chin quivered and he bit his lip to still it as he slid his hand up Emrys’ back, curling it around his shoulder to tug him backwards and back into his lap. “C’mon, Em… let it out, buddy. Cry it out.”

The screen on his phone lit up as a text from Xavier sent the device buzzing on the nightstand. 2.48 in the morning. Nowaki held tight to Emrys as the young man pleaded with him to help him, taking strength from the few words that filled the notification bar. I’m here. On my way up. Nowaki held tighter to Emrys as he murmured, “I’m here… I’m not going anywhere. I’m here.”

The bedroom door opened, lifting Nowaki’s eyes to the shaft of gold light from the hallway filled by his husband just before his heels clicked across the floor and he sat down next to them on the bed. As he wrapped his arms around them both, Nowaki buried his face in Xavier’s neck, breathing in the familiar scent of Giorgio Armani, the favorite cologne of his husband. Emrys’ arm went over Xavier’s neck, his fingers tangling in Nowaki’s jet hair as the grieving man’s broken words touched their ears, “Thank you, mate… thank you for coming to b-be with—be with m-me!”

Xavier pressed a kiss to Emrys’ tousled curls, whispering, “Where else would I be, old friend, if not here when you need me most?”

“Comin’ to L.A. has i-its perks, I-I-I suppose… Nowaki’s h-here.” Emrys tugged free of their arms to lift bruised, yet glittering eyes to the glossy jewels of Xavier’s eyes. “You really should just tell him how you feel, mate. I-If I know one th-thing, it’s that w-we d-don’t know h-how much t-time w-we have l-left. Y-You cannot, cannot d-delay. What w-would y-you do i-if you were—if you were me a-and Nowaki w-was m-my Ísarr?”

Nowaki’s lips lifted in a half-smile as he chuckled lowly. “He’s got a point, Xavier… though, if you remember, I don’t like to think of my time as anywhere close to being up.”

“I-I’ll let you two h-have a bit of—of private t-time… I h-have to g-go get something and g-go to the—go t-to the loo. I-I-I’ll be—I’ll b-be right b-back.” Nowaki watched as Emrys pushed from their arms completely, climbing out of bed to hug his arms as he walked the four feet to the loo, disappearing inside as Xavier spoke.

“Uhm… Nowaki?”

“Koibito?” he murmured, a smile touching his lips despite the sorrow threatening to swallow them all.

He sighed heavily, running his long fingers through his thick hair, rumpling it as he began, “I want to—”

Nowaki smirked, arching an eyebrow as he interjected, “You want to what, Xavier?”

“I think I’m ready,” Xavier answered immediately. “I want what you want, Nowaki, and that’s a home. I want to make a home before our daughter is born, and that’s where I want to live, at home with my family. I don’t care if it’s in California or Japan; I just want to be with my family.”

Taking a deep breath, Nowaki crawled into Xavier’s lap, threading his fingers in Xavier’s as his smile spread widely across his face. “And your family wants you to come home, Xavier!” Covering Xavier’s mouth with his in a deep, if brief, kiss, Nowaki submersed himself in Xavier’s love, drawing strength from the solidarity of their union. “Aishiteiru.” His words were quiet, accompanied by a second kiss, though they both heard and watched as Emrys left the bedroom. Lifting his copper eyes to Xavier’s, he rasped, “We’ve not been together all that much this year. I don’t want to be separated again, Xavier. I feel like when we leave each other’s sight, we are able to be torn apart. We’ve worked for years and we have a son that’s almost fifteen. We are soon to have a daughter, why don’t we—”

“Yes. Yes. We haven’t had real time as a family, and I want the same. We should take this time now, hold onto the ones we’re adding into the family, and—”

“—just breathe.”

Xavier nodded once, his warm hands framing Nowaki’s face. “Hai.” Leaning in, his lips took Nowaki’s a third time, worshipfully, breaking only to rasp, “Hai.”

“Oh, so… so this is how it is, then? You’re going to—going to hold your grief—over mine?” Hiccup. “Well… let me tell you something—”

“Shut up, Lindsay. Just shut up while you’re a-ahead! Your admission o-of guilt in re-regards to Ísarr’s d-d-death was all I-I-I needed to realize th-that it’s true. Ísarr o-only left the safety of this house to clear his head. Y-You’d fought before b-but never about s-something l-like th-th-this.”

When they heard his sob, Nowaki caught Xavier’s gaze. “We need to go to them.”

“Definitely,” Xavier agreed and they were at the door seconds later.

“I-I’m sorry, but even if y-you—if y-you thought th-that we f-failed you… we—we had n-nothing on—n-nothing on your b-b-betr—b-betrayal. You did kill him.”

“Take that back.”

“W-Why? I-It’s true. You killed Ísarr.”

“They’re going to kill each other,” Nowaki breathed, sliding his hand across Xavier’s back as they entered the living area. “I got her. You get him.”

“All right.”

Nowaki felt Xavier briefly squeeze his hand as they separated, the warmth still felt as he lifted it to touch Lindsay’s face as he asked, “What’s going on here?”

Lindsay’s black eyes lifted to his copper ones. “Em th-thinks that his grief is more important than m-mine. He th-thinks that because h-he was his hus-husband th-that that m-makes his more important—”

“J-Just b-because you knew him longer than me doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him enough in nine days for countless lifetimes!” Emrys shouted, straining against Xavier’s hold on him. “I l-loved him… a-and y-you couldn’t st-stand th-that… s-so you ripped a hole in his heart and sent him to his death!

Nowaki blinked when their friend slipped from Xavier’s grip, growling as his eyes lit for a brief second.

What the hell?

Harshly rubbing his face with his hands, a beloved silver ring glinting in the low light from its seat on a hallowed ring finger, Emrys looked between Xavier and Nowaki. “I-I-I can’t d-do this. I-I-I have to g-get some air. I’m goin’ for a-a-a—”

No!” came the resounding shout from all three of them, Lindsay finishing, “The last time someone did that… the last time—no, you can’t!”

Nowaki saw the flash of pain on Emrys’ face as he jerkily bowed his head, clenching his jaw to still the sob, keep it inside. A ragged inhale of breath and he bit out, “Fine. Th-Then I’ll g-go for a d-drive.” Without another word, he stalked out of the room and they heard his feet on the stairs before the jingle of the bell and the hard shut of the door downstairs.

Xavier sighed heavily, lifting shiny eyes to Nowaki’s as he ground out, “Well… that certainly went well.”

I don’t want to be kind. I don’t because I’m so angry that I could hurt someone and feel no remorse.

Nowaki tugged Lindsay back into his arms, holding her close to his chest, but carefully as though she were made of porcelain. “Please, Lindsay, I implore you. Tell us what happened here. Start at the beginning.”

“O-Okay.” She sniffled, taking Nowaki’s hand in hers as she led them over to the couch and chair. Nowaki sat next to her, Xavier taking the chair adjacent to them as Lindsay attempted to dry her face before speaking. “It may take a while—”

“At the moment, love, we have nothing but time,” Xavier interjected gently.

Her forehead creased as she turned the black pools of her eyes to Nowaki. “You might hate me at the end. I lost it, Nowaki… I completely lost my mind. All that strength I’ve been building the last couple of weeks we have been spending together painting—it all flew out the window today. All of it—he’s right… I did kill my brother.”

Nowaki placed his hand to her shoulder, gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Linds… talk to us. Tell us what happened.”

Lindsay bared her soul, that much Nowaki knew as he listened to her speak. She gave complete honesty to them, answered whatever question was thrown her way to the best of her ability, and while Nowaki’s anger simmered beneath the surface, Xavier’s raged hotly, evident in his face, the taut muscles of his shoulders. Nowaki had the benefit of spending almost every day of the last two weeks in her company while Tetsuo had been with OB at headquarters. He’d listened to her pain during the day, and at night, he’d check in with the lovebirds via text or phone call; it had been beautiful to watch Emrys falling so in love and hear that it was completely returned. Unfortunately that all ended hours before when she’d left the house to go get a change of clothes, stopping by the Circle K for a couple of energy drinks and munchies to take to the “nerds” on the way back to Nowaki’s.

I asked her to do that for me… and now there is nothing left but the desolation.

As the minutes turned into hours and almost three of them passed, a cold pit formed in Nowaki’s belly and he lifted his gaze to Xavier’s, knowing that he felt it, too. Though they knew it was coming, the harsh knock that came on the glass-paned shop door at 6.01 startled all three of them. Nowaki stepped into Xavier’s space, squeezing his hand and kissing his mouth as he hushed, “I will go answer it, Xavier. Wait here with her.”

Nowaki hurried out of the room and down the stairs, skipping the third one from the bottom to hurry across the shop to the door. Turning the deadbolt, he swallowed as he saw two police officers on the stoop, and though he knew the answer to the question, he asked it anyway, “Officers… what can I do for you?”

“I’m Officer Thomas Muldoon and this is my partner, Officer Dominic Bellucci. You are?” The one on the right quirked an eyebrow after he finished introductions, and Nowaki would have smiled… on a normal day.

But today is the day the desolation becomes complete.

“Shimazu-Blair Nowaki. I am close friends with the Trevelyan-Marlowes and with Lindsay Trevelyan, Ísarr’s sister.” He sighed. “What brings you here, officers?”

“I spoke to Ms. Trevelyan and Mr. Trevelyan-Marlowe yesterday,” Officer Muldoon began. “I brought bad news. Unfortunately, I am bringing more of the same today.”

“Bad news?” I am not prepared for this. I am not prepared for this, he thought as he folded his arms over his belly and asked, “What do you mean?”

Officer Bellucci finally spoke. “Emrys’ car was just found at the bottom of a steep switchback in the hills. Witnesses saw the vehicle lose traction and shoot over the edge. The damage to the car alone was extensive, and that was with the front and side airbag deployment. Blood was everywhere, on the glass and seat of the car.” He paused for a moment, shaking his head. “From the state of the car alone, it is presumed that Mr. Trevelyan-Marlowe didn’t make it.”

Nowaki swallowed again, nodded. “Presumed? When did it happen?”

“The first call came just as the car Mr. Trevelyan-Marlowe was driving left the road,” Officer Muldoon answered, looking at his notes. “The time reported on the 911 call was 4.42.”

Nowaki’s chin quivered and he bit his lip to still it, blinking. “You said presumed—”

The officers both shook their heads, Muldoon interrupting him. “Yes, sir. There was no body in the car or at the scene anywhere we looked. We are currently looking as far as the ocean because of the seawater that covered the car somehow. But with the state of the vehicle itself and the amount of blood inside it, it’s a pretty sure bet that he’s dead. We came by to speak to his next of kin, and our sources led us to believe that his mother and sister were here, though we have been unsuccessful in contacting them. Also listed as his next of kin, outside of his husband, was you.”

Nowaki nodded again. “I have Dilys’ and Afon’s number. I will call them to find out where they are. If they’re here, we will make certain to take care of them.”

“One more question and we’ll leave, sir, as I know that this has to be hard for you.” Bellucci’s words were quiet. “Do you have any reason to believe that someone wanted to hurt Emrys? As far as we can tell, he didn’t have any celebrity stalkers.”

Nowaki shook his head. “No, he never mentioned any and I’ve worked with him on a couple of things, but I never saw any trouble with him. We’ve been friends a long time. When he left earlier, he was very upset, as I’m certain you can imagine. What you described sounds like something startled him as he was driving. He loved to drive the hills; their view of the ocean he always said reminded him of home.”

“Okay, thank you, sir. If we have any other questions, we’ll contact you,” Muldoon murmured. “We’re sorry for your loss.”

Nowaki gave a tight smile, though his grief could not be contained much longer. He shut the door, locked the deadbolt and leaned against it as he struggled to control his breathing.

Emrys… gods, Emrys… not you. Not your bright light…

Putting his face in his hands, he wept silently for a moment.

Have to tell them. Have to tell… oh, gods… Tetsuo.

Hurrying over to the stairs, he started up them, his left foot hitting the third stair with a loud creak that startled him, eliciting an audible sob as he stopped. Strong arms wrapped around him, ones he clung to as Nowaki rasped, “He’s gone… he’s really gone… koibito… the bright light has gone out! How are we going to tell Tetsuo? He’s gone, gods, he’s gone! He’s gone!”

Xavier held him tighter, pressing kisses to his brow and his hair, whispering, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, my pulchritudinous rainstorm, I’ve got you!”

The throwback to their very beginning at the very end of such a beautiful life stilled Nowaki momentarily, though he held close to Xavier as his husband gritted out, “Are you satisfied yet? Are you? How many more of my family do you have to take for this to be over, Lindsay? How. Many. More?!

NOWAKI LAY STILL in Xavier’s arms, watching but not really watching the television news coverage of Emrys’ and Ísarr’s tragic deaths. He and Xavier had located Emrys’ sister and mother at the hotel that they usually stayed at, meeting the Englishman that Afon planned to marry, one curiously [and humorously] named John Watson.

Emrys said that she only dated him because her favorite author is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and now she’ll be Mrs. John Watson.

Tetsuo stirred, rubbing his face in the small of Nowaki’s back as OB entered the room, a furtive expression on his face.

Xavier muted the television, causing Nowaki to look up as well, prompting the younger man to speak. “Okay, so Emrys’ family is on their way over here. They apologized again for not taking our help, but his sister also said it gave them a little time to grieve. His mother said to tell you that they should not have been so selfish in grieving alone, hence their decision to come to us. Also, John—the fiancé—said that he had called in a favor from home.” OB smiled a little, causing his green eyes to light. “Turns out that old John Watson works for—get this—Scotland Yard.”

Xavier chuckled, as did Nowaki, but it was the Englishman who stated, “You’re kidding!”

“Wish I was, but no. He works for Scotland Yard, is an intern there. The detective he’s working with is Detective Inspector Ashe Reynolds, and he’s on holiday in Los Angeles to visit friends and surf.” OB paused. “John called him, and they called it in, got permission to investigate his death because of the odd circumstances regarding the car. According to John he’s down at the impound yard right now with the wreckage.”

Nowaki put his face in Xavier’s chest for a moment before he spoke, taking a few deep breaths, attempting to stay calm. “You said odd circumstances. Does that have to do with what the policeman said about the lack of Emrys’… of Emrys’… of his body?”

“What John said when I talked to him was that Ashe had brought up the file shared with the Yard—they did that because of Emrys’ citizenship—and Forensics had noted that the entire car, inside and out, was coated in sodium chloride. Even the blood was diluted with it, like the car had hit deep water and sank, and also with the impact pattern left on the car. The impact pattern suggests his car did not hit rock, but water as well,” OB told them. “You have to admit it’s weird. Oh, and also, they found a large unbroken piece of windshield lying off to the side of the wreck, coated in the stuff, with a starfish the size of a man’s palm just lying there.”

“A starfish?” Xavier crinkled his forehead in consternation. “And sodium chloride? Seawater? Where they said he was… he was nowhere near the ocean!”

“And the ground was soaked in it, like a wave had gone over his car,” OB confirmed, running a hand through his hair before tucking it behind his ears. “The facts don’t add up at all.”

Nowaki looked up at Xavier. “What do you think?”

His husband shrugged slowly. “Do you know where to find his research? He always said that it turned up nothing.”

“I’ve got it boxed up in my office closet, top shelf. I wanted it to be close in case he ever needed it.” Nowaki carefully moved from under Tetsuo, sitting up as he motioned OB over to them. “Before you ask, when Emrys was twenty-four, just after we’d finished filming the first Seventh movie, he’d met Dr. Arishima Kiyoshi, the leading archaeologist on old world pirates. I don’t know if you heard anything about what happened? The young doctor had started working on a find in the Caribbean, fell into a mysterious coma for ten months and woke up fine, with the exception of possessing an entirely new set of speech patterns, and he woke up with wedding rings on his finger.”

“I remember hearing something about it from people in the office, yeah,” OB replied blithely, folding his arms over his belly. “Disappeared off the face of the earth in October of 2007, left not a trace.”

“That’s the story that we—Emrys included—wanted people to believe” Xavier took up the story. “According to Emrys, Kiyoshi insisted that he was married, that he had a husband… and I met said husband the day he left. Kiyoshi had gone to see his doctor that day, according to Emrys. He’d gotten sick and his condition was worsening as the days passed, to the point that it scared him. Apparently, he’d had follicular lymphoma when he was younger and had nearly died, but it had unexpectedly gone into remission. If I remember correctly, ten years later his cancer returned and it was taking him quickly. Shelly—that’s the husband—found a way to travel to this world to retrieve him, and he brought with him an acquaintance of his, a pirate named Cameron Morgan. They came and they took Kiyoshi back with them.”

OB looked from Xavier’s face to Nowaki’s then back to Xavier’s. “How?”

“That was back when Emrys had a place on the beach, before he sold it. They came out of the water somewhere near his house, and they returned via the same place,” Xavier answered, his voice low. “I watched them leave.”

“You were there?” OB blinked as he crossed to them. “You’re not pulling my leg?”

“Oh, no. Wish I was. Insanity would be far easier to explain this away, but no… out of the sea. The floor was wet from their water-logged clothes, as was the porch and the steps. After they walked into the waves, I looked for them, trying to find them, called in favors from Canicus even, but nothing has ever turned up on them.”

OB sat on the edge of the bed. “Why are you telling me this?”

Nowaki reached out to him and squeezed his arm. “Because what we’re thinking is that since it was seawater that was all over Emrys’ home then, and now seawater covered his car and clothes, leaving behind a starfish as a signature of some sort… that maybe, just maybe they came for Emrys, too.”

“But Kiyoshi was alive when they took him home—”

“Not for much longer. The doctor he went to told Canicus that his scans indicated the cancer had come back with a vengeance.” Xavier shook his head, asking, “What if this World’s End place is like a heaven place without all the singing?”

Nowaki looked between them, giving voice to the most obvious question. “Well, if it is, how do we find out for certain? I’m not keen on going on faith.”

“I might be able to help with that.” OB took out his phone. “I just need to make a call to my boss.”

Hours later, Nowaki stood in the garden, clad in a traditional samurai kimono, his face wet, holding a note in his hand.

Are the people I love going to ever stop killing me?

He glanced down at words already seared into his brain, remembering how she’d left the shop that morning, the words they’d said to one another as they grieved—neither had been faultless, no… his words had dealt hefty wounds to her soul just as her words had slashed at his own.

“Yeah, it’s over—for them. Who gives a fuck for those of us left behind, right? How selfish of them—“

“Selfish of them, you say? Selfish of them? Oh, you have a lot of gall, Lindsay, to call them selfish! What about you? What about what you did to your very own brother Ísarr? He was your blood and you told him that he was dead to you! You disparaged him to Emrys in a selfish attempt to steal him away from Ísarr! And what about how you treated Emrys? Have you given thought to that? Questioning his loyalty, the trust he held in you, belittling his grief because his time with Ísarr as his lover was shorter than yours as your brother. I tried to put a salve on the wound you felt, but there was no healing what you wanted to cultivate. Yes, you are right in your thoughts, Lindsay Trevelyan: you are the reason two precious lights have gone out—“

Lindsay’s eyes, so wide and black, so full of tears in that regrettable moment, searching Nowaki’s own glossy green as her lower lip quivered. He’d watched as she called the emotion back, put up her stone wall and bit him right back.

“Well… lucky for you Shimazu Nowaki, you won’t have to worry about me ever again.”

“Where are you going?”

“Out. I’m going out, Nowaki. That should make you happy, you self-righteous bastard. You’ll finally be free of evil old me.”

She’d gone back a few hours later, let herself in while they were out to eat, and left a note after grabbing some clothes and her portfolio. The note, left on a corner of the guest bed, had been addressed to Nowaki.

Nowaki,

I’m so sorry that I reacted badly
to their marriage after promising to
try to be a supportive sister and best
friend. I apologize to you for saying
the horrible things I said and you are
right- I am the reason that two precious
lights have gone out.

I love you dearly, you and Tetsuo,
even your Xavier, but I have to go away
for a while and I’m not certain when I
will return.

Always,
Lindsay

Hands wrapped around his upper arms, hauling Nowaki back against a familiar and lean frame, a kiss pressed against the column of his throat as the purr of an English accent caressed his ear. “Beautiful, beautiful man… my wondrous rainstorm—”

Nowaki whirled in his arms, both his hands folding over Xavier’s heart as his tears fell, the paper crinkling under his fingers. “Swear to me, Xavier, swear it to me again what you swore to me on that beach in Wales… that as we are as forever as Time, as impenetrable as diamonds, that we will also be as unwavering as Death in the steadfastness of our love for one another, that we will never allow anything to part us. Swear it to me, Xavier… swear it to me now, because I will not…” Nowaki blinked rapidly to clear the tears from his vision, his copper gaze finding his husband’s emerald one and holding it fast. “… I will not live this life, not without you.”

Xavier’s lips spread in a tender smile before they covered Nowaki’s in a kiss that sent waves of tranquility over the Japanese man’s soul. Nowaki leaned into the kiss, giving a quiet moan when Xavier’s arms tightened around his back and shoulders, only tugging his lips from Nowaki’s when he relaxed. Pressing his lips to Nowaki’s brow, he whispered, “We shall be forever as Time, as impenetrable as diamonds. We shall be as unwavering as Death in the steadfastness of our love for one another, and we shall never allow anything to part us. Nowaki, I give you my oath as goshujin—” Xavier’s hands slipped up to cup Nowaki’s face as he finished, his voice thick with emotion, “—I cannot and will not live this life… not without you.”

Wrapping his arms around Xavier’s shoulders, he pushed his face against his chest. “I can handle pain and torment, but two things in this life I will never be able to take is losing Tetsuo and losing you. I refuse Death those two things.”

“And when you do, I will stand at your side… ready for battle,” Xavier murmured, tugging Nowaki’s head from his shoulder to press a kiss to both Nowaki’s eyes. “Now come, we must ready for dinner. Dilys said that Afon is irritable with late-comers.”

~NOT the End~

Chapter Seven         Table of Contents

NEVER SEE THE LIGHT: Chapter Seven– Tell Me Now

Never See the Light_XSmall

Japanese Glossary

Nowaki growled as he plopped back onto the bed, wondering how and when their family would actually be back together for more than four months at a time. Locked into the third film of the Seventh series upon sign on for the first one in 2004, he was quite glad that Ecthelion made his exit in this film, and as of book thirteen, just released in July [curiously in conjunction with his end of filming for Warriors of the Seventh Star], his character thus far had not been resurrected.

Thank the heavens for that, he thought. Though it has been long since I have had Tsu-kun and Xavier home—either home—at the same time. I miss them intensely.

Closing his eyes, he rubbed his hands over his face a couple of times, rolling onto his side to bring his knees to his chest as he said aloud, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”

The bed vibrated, signaling a call on his mobile and he snatched it up, sliding his finger across the glass as he answered, “Moshi moshi?”

“G’mornin’, Wa-chan!”

It felt very much like a black cloud appeared above his head at the sound of his elder brother’s voice. “Ah, Shohei-san, how does the day find you?”

“Don’t sound so excited to hear from me, otōto! I call bearing great news!” Shohei cried out, joy radiating across the line to lift Nowaki’s lips slightly.

“Okay, okay… my apologies, nii-san. Tell me your great news.” Nowaki rolled onto his back again, throwing his arm over his eyes.

“I am engaged!”

Nowaki bolted upright, his back ramrod straight, eyes wide and staring in his skull. “Engaged? To who? When?”

Shohei laughed. “And when she gives birth to your little girl, we will start to have our own family.”

His hand lodged in the top of his hair, Nowaki nearly shouted, “You and Xanthe? You have lived together since 2000!”

“Hai… and we’ve been together since then, truth be told. Shared a bed full time since 2001.” Shohei paused, but the smile Nowaki had heard in his brother’s voice upon his greeting had not lessened. “I need to have your blessing, Nowaki. It is important to us.”

“Of course! And congrats, nii-san! I cannot imagine anyone better for my big brother than Xanthe.” Nowaki sank back onto the mattress, taking a deep breath before voicing his fear. “Do you think that it will take? It has not so far and I am beginning to wonder if I am broken. We have been trying for a year now.”

“Last time, it took about this long. I remember that you had the same fears and look now at your young man!” Shohei chuckled lowly. “Relax, otōto. You will have a Hoshi-san soon enough.”

Tugging his knees to his chest as he curled into a ball, he whispered, “Nii-san … I miss my husband and I want him to come home. I miss my son and I want him to come home. I’m tired of always being in fifteen different places a year. I think I’ve finally had it with the film industry. I’ve made the money I need and while I love to film, love to act, I’m ready to just be Shimazu-Blair Nowaki, husband to the great Xavier Shimazu-Blair and father to the amazing Shimazu-Blair Tetsuo.”

“Does Oto-san know of this wish?”

Nowaki laughed softly. “I have only just voiced this wish, Shohei. You are the first to hear it, even over Xavier.”

“Ah, okay. Xavier is who you were hoping I was when you answered your mobile, huh?” Shohei replied, keeping his voice low and calming.

“How very astute you are, nii-san,” Nowaki blithely retorted. “And hai, I just want to crawl into bed and have him wrap around me and tell me that soon we will not have to part. I’m homesick for home and for the home I have with him… and I miss my son.”

A knock came at the door, the male voice calling through it alerting him to room service. “I didn’t order any!” he called out, covering the phone. Turning back to it, he muttered, “My apologies, nii-san. Room service just came to the wrong room.”

Another knock. “Mr. Shimazu! I bring dinner ordered by Mr. Blair over the phone!”

Irritated, he sat up, growling to his brother, “I will call you back. I’m going to go take care of the ass at the door since it’s only three-forty in the afternoon and Xavier, while older than me, still doesn’t take dinner until about six, so why the hell would he order me dinner now?”

“You tell him, Wa-chan. Call me back… and I miss you!”

“Miss you, too, nii-san!” Nowaki hung up the phone and tossed it onto the bed as he got out of it. “You picked the wrong day to be persistent, jackass,” he hissed as he threw open the hotel room door only to find himself pinned to the hall wall, a treasured chuckle next to his ear as Xavier’s teeth tugged on the rim.

“Miss me?” he whispered, hugging him tightly before pulling back to meet his amber gaze, his own bright green glossing at the tears slipping down Nowaki’s cheeks. A gentle hand moved up to cup his cheek, his thumb tracing the sensitive skin beneath his left eye. Pressing a kiss to each eye, Xavier rasped, “I couldn’t stand it and so I spoke to my director late last night. I have four more months of filming, but I couldn’t handle not having you. It seems like since we got married, we’ve not had any real time to be a couple, much less a family—”

“Hai. It feels like time is running out, and I don’t know why. All I know is that I’m done with filming on Seventh and as much as I love my job, I love you and Tetsuo and the baby we hope to make, more than a job. I don’t care that people think of me almost in the same breath as Watanabe, Xavier, I just want to be your husband and Tetsuo’s father, Shohei’s little brother, and Masanori’s son.” Tears slid down his face to follow the paths of the ones gone before. “I’m grateful for the success that I’ve found, but I don’t want to have nothing but success! I mean, we found life before we found accolades, and so the work was supposed to add to the beauty of you and I, wasn’t it?”

“Come back to Wales with me, boku no otto… boku no kokuyoseki-suta…” Xavier lifted Nowaki’s face to his, his lips spreading in a slow smile as Nowaki climbed his hips, sliding his fingers into Xavier’s wheaten hair, whispering, “You’ve not called me your obsidian star in a long time.”

“Perhaps stars are on the brain, then… since we’re having one. Xanthe called me as I was getting off the plane to let me know that our star will descend on us sometime around New Year’s Day. Her official due date is January 2.” Xavier’s lips touched Nowaki’s and he nuzzled his nose, hushing, “And the doctor thinks that we might just have a little girl, too.”

Nowaki blinked. “They weren’t able to tell with Tetsuo until the very beginning of the second trimester—” At the sudden realization that the three people other than himself that were involved had kept it a surprise for likely a month, Nowaki shook his head with a smile. “How long have they known?”

“I’ve only known she was pregnant for about a week and a half, and I only found out because she and Shohei came to see me before they left for Japan.” Xavier leaned his forehead to Nowaki’s, breathing his breath. “The two of them always make me wonder when they’re going to tell us that they’re a couple.”

“Then you should be getting a phone call soon… because I just got off of that phone call when room service demanded my attention,” Nowaki laughed. “She’s really pregnant?”

“She’s really pregnant!” Xavier’s hands slid down Nowaki’s arms. “Now… I’m taking you over to the bed, and then I’m making love to you… and then I’m taking you back to Wales with me… and I’m marrying you there.” Kissing Nowaki’s lower lip, he finished. “Then we’ll pick up our supercomputer and take him with us to California, where we’ll get married there and begin work on a nursery for our little star.”

His smile spread so wide that he felt his head would crack and he whispered, “Brandon said that he and Christian used to say my cup tipped over when Christian was little, and god, my beautiful lion, if that isn’t ever the truth! I am certain that I have never known such happiness as I do now.” His copper eyes searched the bright emerald ones belonging to his husband. “I love you and god, how I’ve missed you!”

11 June 2013
Los Angeles, California

“Papa, you will never believe the stuff that I’m working on and that I’m learning working with OB!” Tetsuo hooked his arm through Xavier’s as they exited Canicus Industries headquarters building, smiling up at the taller man as they walked across the green towards the car park. “It’s been such a rewarding experience and I never really stop thinking that, but seriously, where’s Chichi?”

Nowaki laughed as they reached the trees, jumping out to wrap around his fourteen year old son in a big hug as he pressed a kiss to his hair. “You’re getting so big! I think that you’ve grown half a foot since I saw you last!”

Tetsuo hugged him back tightly. “Chichi… you’re so silly. I’ve only grown four and a half inches! OB and I work out together, though—it’s required and where else do you think he’s going to get a body like that just hacking! Leith calls him Moose, and it’s funny because OB lets him call him Moose! He even smiles when Leith calls him Moose—what?”

Nowaki looked up at Xavier, a knowing smile on his face as he murmured, “Hero-worship?”

Xavier shook his head. “Definitely not. This is more than that. We’re talking about smiles and bodies, not what he can do or his brain.”

“Gutter brain!” Tetsuo frowned and swatted Xavier’s shoulder. “I am not in possession of a crush on anyone!”

“I think you are,” Nowaki teased, but affection was clear in his voice. “Look at you! You’re glowing with excitement and god, Tsu-kun, but you do look beautiful.”

Tetsuo blushed, but hooked his arm in Nowaki’s. “Chichi, if anyone looks beautiful today, it’s you. What’s Papa done to make you shine so?”

“Well… he asked me to marry him twice more. Once in Wales—where we picked up a second civil partnership—and I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news, but California is back in the business of marrying everyone again, so we thought a wedding in the gardens was in order. What do you think?” Nowaki answered, wrapping his arm around his son’s shoulders.

“I think it’s super-cool and I think we should go to the beach afterward!” Tetsuo turned to face Xavier. “When do you go back to Wales to finish shooting?”

“End of the week, but I’m taking you both with me, sweet boy. We’ve decided that we’re not going to have any more splits with the Shimazu-Blairs. Time is too precious, too short. Chichi and I are going to slow down on the filming and I’ve been thinking of doing more theatre, but we’ve not decided if we’re ready to add London to our schedule of living.” Xavier smiled at Tetsuo as his arm went over Nowaki’s, his hand tousling thick jet hair that was long on top and curled slightly at the back where it hit his shoulders. “I like your hair like this. Frames your face perfectly.”

“Papa… what is going on? What is it that you’re not telling me?” Tetsuo stepped out of their arms, looking at them both. “You both are being a little weird and I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s like there’s something—there’s just something that is a bit off.”

Nowaki frowned. “No, musuko-san… we’re just happy to be together again, the three of us. We already told you about Xanthe… so there’s nothing you don’t know.”

“Okay, if there’s nothing I don’t know, then why are you suddenly feeling a loss of time? Chichi… I know that your kaa-san died of cancer. Cancer often is genetic. Are you sick?” Tetsuo demanded, his face white with terror. “You’re not sick are you?”

Nowaki blinked with surprise at the direction that the conversation had suddenly taken. “No, Tetsuo, I am not sick. I missed my family. I don’t think that missing you is an indication that I am sick or dying, but that it’s been too long since we’ve been together! I have an amazing family that I’m a part of and I just want to be able to spend time with them without having to watch the clock. That’s all.”

Tetsuo nodded, swallowing hard before he threw himself into Nowaki’s arms. “You better not be and if you are, you better tell me so that me and OB can find a way to keep you from ever leaving.”

Lifting his bright eyes to Xavier’s, he quirked an eyebrow as he wrapped his son in a tight hug. “I’m okay, I promise, Tsu-kun! I am okay!”

Xavier wound around them, kissing Nowaki’s mouth, and whispering, “I don’t like even thinking about it. The idea of it gives me nightmares.”

Nowaki slid one hand into Xavier’s hair, his eyes blazing. “I am never going to leave you, Xavier, so put it out of your mind! I mean it!”

The car pulled up beside them, Leith Kennith stepping out of the driver’s side to embrace them all. “I believe that a car to the airport is in order?”

Xavier smiled widely, taking Nowaki’s hand as Tetsuo whirled on his heel to say, “So yesterday, I was asked if I could have one wish, what would it be. My response was Leith Kennith driving me and my dads to the airport, and while I meant Canicus providing us a car, they took it literally and so he really is driving us to the airport.”

Nowaki laughed. “Now that’s impressive! What did you do to gain such reward?”

Leith grinned, leaning on the door. “He and OB have designed a security system that they’re running trials with at the moment, one that is more intelligent than any system out at the moment, one that learns and remembers… could be the future.”

“What did OB wish for?” Nowaki queried. “I’m just curious.”

“He wanted to expand his home.” Leith smiled softly. “So he asked me to look into his birth parents.”

“He said his last name was MacKenzie, didn’t he?” Xavier murmured as they got into the car, and he wrapped around Nowaki, pressing a kiss to his hair.

“Yes, he did, but the MacKenzie adopted him when he found him on his doorstep one August morning. OB wanted to know more about the people who put him with that loving family.” Leith gave another hug to Tetsuo before the young man dove into the car, laying his face against Nowaki’s thigh as he sprawled on the seat beside them.

You do need to see a doctor. Masanori-san has been telling you to do so since your thirtieth birthday, Nowaki-san. Better to be safe than sorry. Remember what Hoshi-san’s death did to your Oto-san and your son is correct: it’s a well-known fact that cancer can be passed on genetically.

Nowaki blinked at the sound of Leith’s voice in his head as his fingers pushed through Tetsuo’s silky hair, his gaze catching the wink in the rear view mirror.

Yes, I’m in your head and were you to find out something negative, I would assist you and yours in preventative thinking. I owe you that much at the very least.

Nowaki buried his face against Xavier’s side, murmuring, “I’m so happy to have you here, both of you. You are the most amazing things I have ever done.”

“Chichi… daisuke!” Tetsuo’s voice was airy, giving testament to the long days the boy put in to honing his craft, and Nowaki knew that he would soon be asleep.

“I think that out of all of the things in my life, you are the one thing I did right, and together, we made that young man. We’ve made another child, and all I can think is that we are right where we are supposed to be, Nowaki.” Xavier turned to smile down at Nowaki. “I also love the fact that we still can’t keep our hands off of each other, too. Judah told me once when I complained about my age—”

“Judah’s my age, isn’t he? I mean, I know that Brandon is three years older than me, but I thought Judah was in that area—” Nowaki interjected, settling his chin on Xavier’s chest.

“Judah is Leith’s and Mel’s son. They are far older than they look. He got the phrase, I’m certain, from them. He told me, ‘Xavier, if age was just a number, what number would you be?’” Xavier smiled. “Know what I told him?”

Nowaki grinned. “I know what I would tell him.”

“I told him, ‘Judah, I’d be twenty-seven forever.’” Xavier cackled lightly. “He shook his head at me and I went on to say, ‘I’d be twenty-seven forever because my husband would appreciate it.’”

“I almost guessed what you would be, but I have to say, if you choose twenty-seven, then that makes me have to be eighteen and I don’t want to be a teenager a second time, so anywhere in my early- to mid-twenties, because then you’re in your late-twenties to early-thirties.” Nowaki blinked slowly as the easy ride of the luxury car lulled him to sleep. “Wake me when we get to LAX?”

Xavier’s lips found his in a tender kiss as he nodded. “If you promise that it will be my privilege to the end of time.”

Nowaki took another kiss from Xavier, his answer quiet, “It’s only ever always been your privilege, mate of the youngest Shimazu dragon.”

Nowaki’s eyes opened next on a window looking out over the sea, but the air wasn’t as heavy as it had previously been in California, and the breeze coming from the cottage-styled window was much cooler.

Where the hell am I? I was just about to get on a plane and now I’m somewhere where the word “cottage” applies in description?

Pulling up to lean on one hand, he looked around the room as he ran his free hand through his hair. “Where the hell am I?”

The bedroom door opened and Xavier poked his head in, a small smile touching his lips. “How you feeling?”

“How many times do I have to tell you and Tsu-kun that I’m not dying and that I’m perfectly fine?” Nowaki groused, shoving a hand through his jet hair. “I take very good care of myself because Kaa-chan almost died of cancer, and I cannot be—nor will I ever—leaving you.” Walking on his knees to the end of the feather bed, Nowaki motioned Xavier to him.

Where am I? How did I get here?

When the Englishman came to a stop before him, he grabbed hold of the front of Xavier’s sweater with both hands. “We swore we’d make us forever. I’m not ever going to renege on that. You are all I have ever wanted, Xavier. Nothing will ever make my soul complete, nothing but you.”

“Then I want you to do something, something you don’t want to do,” Xavier told him, his large hands curving over Nowaki’s slender hips. “I want you to see a doctor and make certain there are no abnormalities. Do this to satisfy my worrisome nature. Please.”

Nothing looks remotely familiar. I’ve never seen this room before, nor that view out the window.

“Okay, but if I do, and it comes back negative—which it will—you won’t bring it up again? You’ll give me your word?” Nowaki held his husband’s gaze. “I mean it!”

“I give you my word, anata, that I will leave it be if you go and there are no abnormalities. Now… if that’s a yes…?” When Nowaki nodded, Xavier lifted his hands to trail the backs of his fingers down Nowaki’s cheeks. “Will you let me tell you something that I am certain you are not quite going to believe?”

“Hai… what is it? Your words, along with the fact that I am scouring my brain to figure out where we are and why I can’t remember traveling here, are scaring me.” His eyes took in the old stone walls, the lack of glass in the window, the candles waiting to be lit, the furniture and he realized the most modern part of the room was the bed he knelt upon, and the clothes they wore. “Xavier?”

“We’ve already run the tests. When you lost consciousness, you were already so tired from traveling, I thought that you’d fallen asleep on me until I couldn’t wake you at the airstrip. Leith transported us via his jet to this beautiful place on the coast of Wales, and he brought his husband here, too. Both Kenniths are outside on the beach awaiting your answer.”

“My answer?” Nowaki echoed, his eyes ticking to the window. “Answer to what? How did my tests come back?”

Xavier did not answer him, but instead asked a question of his own, “Do you still promise me forever?”

“You know I do, koibito! Why won’t you tell me about my results?” Nowaki’s heart clenched and his stomach did flip flops.

What the hell is going on?

“Xavier, stop avoiding my questions. Tell me why I can’t remember what happened and how long it’s been and what my results are saying!”

Exhaling raggedly, his husband nodded. “Okay, but you won’t like any of it.”

“I don’t like any of it now, so what’s the difference?” Nowaki drew him down next to him, crawling into his lap to hold to him, terrified when he felt tremors of fear running through Xavier. “Tell me, Xavier, I implore you!”

“All right, all right! As I told you before, you lost consciousness. That’s why you don’t remember the traveling. You were unconscious for eight days. During that time, Leith brought in his top doctors to look you over. Early on, they discovered what was wrong and they ran every test that they could think of to effect a cure, but nothing has worked… and nothing has stopped it. Physically, your body is in excellent shape for a 38-year-old male, however—” Xavier’s hands cradled his skull. “—in your brain, a tumor is growing at a pace the doctors have never seen before.”

“So it’s inoperable… and I slept for eight days. Tetsuo—”

“Relax, beloved man, he doesn’t know yet. OB came to get him—emergency call on their trials—when we arrived at the airstrip. Kennith magic, I guess.” Xavier exhaled raggedly, wrapping tightly around him, laughing a little hysterically. “I told you to relax and I’m doing a fine job of not relaxing!”

“You said that the Kenniths are awaiting my answer. My answer to what?” Nowaki held a little closer to Xavier, terror filling his veins at the very real possibility that Death was staring him in the face. All he could think about was the malignant tumor in his brain and suddenly all he could think about was did it look the way it did in the movie about the English kid and the greeting cards?

But will I get the miracle that kid did?

“Leith and Mel want to give you a gift if you are serious, and it’s a gift I don’t foresee you saying no to, nor do I see you not instantly asking for me.” Xavier’s voice trembled, his eyes shiny with emotion. “At least, I hope you ask for me. They said to tell you that what the gift will do to you is put you back at the prime of your life, that it will eradicate all imperfections, and it will literally make your body impervious to any kind of damage.”

Nowaki’s hands came to rest on Xavier’s chest, his fingers picking at non-existent fuzz on the sweater. “I don’t understand. How could… I have never even heard… it sounds too fantastic to be real.” He lifted his eyes to Xavier’s face, loving every line he saw in his face, remembering all the smiles and laughter, and all of the tears over the years that put them there. Nowaki remembered how dazzling Xavier Blair had been the first time he laid eyes on him, and he swallowed as he realized that dazzle had blossomed into the sheer magnificence that Nowaki called husband. “What kind of gift is it, Xavier? Please be plain.”

“I am allowed to accompany you down to the beach if your answer is yes, and before you ask, you have to say yes without knowing what exactly is entailed, that this is your trust fall. They will only offer this gift once, that should you think about it, you will realize that what your answer is to lies in the oath.” Xavier’s fingertips lightly massaged the base of Nowaki’s skull.

“Oath? What oath? The only oaths I’ve made are to you, to love you forever, to find forever with you, but surely—” Nowaki stopped, blinking as he turned over the possibility.

Prime of your life. Eradicate all imperfections. Make your body impervious.

Lifting his eyes to Xavier’s, he rasped, “It’s not possible… how?”

“Not an answer, my pulchritudinous rainstorm… yes or no,” Xavier chided as his chin quivered when he tried to smile at Nowaki.

“Yes.” Nowaki nodded, bringing Xavier’s hands forward to press kisses to his palms. “My answer to that question will always be yes.”

Xavier took a ragged breath, tears in his eyes falling as his lips spread in a smile before they caught Nowaki’s in a tender, salty kiss. “Good! Good! Let me help you to the beach.”

Nowaki slid from his lap to turn over and put his feet to the floor. It was when he stood that he realized exactly what the foreign object in his skull was doing to him. His equilibrium put the world at a slant, one he didn’t actually see until the strength of Xavier’s arm tugged him up against his side. Taking his copper gaze to Xavier’s pale green, he gave another nod. “Take me to them… I can’t stand what this is doing to you.”

Biting his lower lip to still its trembling, Xavier led him out the door of the warm cottage and down a small dirt path to the beach. The cool breeze coming in off the ocean felt good, and Nowaki’s eyes found the two men to be barefoot as they walked the shoreline, hand in hand, two absolute portraits of beauty, one light and one dark. Nowaki stepped away from Xavier as he reached out to them. “Yes… my answer is yes! Please… my answer is yes!”

The stunning man in a royal blue suit stepped forward, pushing the golden waterfall of his hair over his shoulder as his brilliant eyes, accented by the color of his suit, sparkled. Catching Nowaki as he lost his balance, his mellifluous voice calmed Nowaki’s heart.

“We have never met in person, though I recall a couple of times that we’ve spoken on the bell. My name is Mel. I’m Leith’s husband.”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mel. You can call me Nowaki.” Meeting eyes so clear blue he wondered if the gods had taken two small specks of the sky and placed them in his skull for irises, Nowaki swallowed as pain lanced through his skull, his grip tightening on Mel’s arms. “Please… please… my answer is yes! Tell me what to do!”

A tender kiss pressed to his brow before Mel whispered, “Then let us work… and let Xavier hold you.”

Seconds later, a shirtless Nowaki knelt in the sand, his cheek pillowed by Xavier’s chest, trying to breathe normally as the pain intensified in his temples. Mel’s face came into view as his fingers pushed a stray lock of hair over his ear. “We’re going to begin now. The first thing you will feel is warmth on your shoulders, and when it gets too hot, let us know. It is important for the flesh to be malleable, not burned, so remember this. At the moment, you may feel a little tired as the pain in your skull lessens. It is okay to close your eyes as Leith begins the eradication process while I work on making the roots for the wings.”

Nowaki blinked. “Wings? I will have wings?”

Mel grinned impishly, answering immediately, “Of course you will! What kind of angel does not possess wings?”

“Tenshi… hontōni?” Nowaki exhaled slowly, feeling relief as Mel’s promise became truth and his physical discomfort began to fade. “Huh… wings.”

A kiss pressed to the side of his neck sent his lips curving up towards his ears as the heat descended on his flesh, growing in intensity until he hissed, “Ah! Hot!”

While it did not hurt, whatever Mel did to his shoulders did not feel in any way comfortable, though it did not take long and by the end of it, Nowaki felt such a difference on a physical level, that it was easy to see that his rundown state had not been just from working too much.

I was really sick… as in that tumor was no small thing; it affected every part of me. Why didn’t I just go see the doctor the first time Chichi told me to do so?

Mel’s voice filtered through his thoughts. “Okay, you’re clean of imperfection, Nowaki. Leith and I have decided that what we’re going to do now is put a slight pause on your make and give the gift to Xavier as well, because neither of you should experience even so much as one second of being parted. Too much time apart was caused by Canicus, we will not allow you to suffer again.” Nowaki lifted bright copper eyes to Xavier’s sparkling emerald, joy sparkling in both sets as Leith took Xavier’s shirt, Mel speaking once more. “I will begin the eradication process while Leith creates the roots for Xavier’s wings.”

Nowaki’s tongue darted out to wet his lower lip as he held Xavier’s gaze, seeing what his husband must have seen while watching him, as what looked to be every single cell in Xavier almost glowed with a white light from deep within, shining out his eyes like the sun through a stained glass window.

“Totemo utsukushii…” he breathed as the light ebbed and he felt Mel’s hands return to his shoulders.

“You will feel very warm,” Leith murmured as his hands fell to Xavier’s shoulders. “And you will see two balls of light pass between your chests. We decided to do it this way because we thought it would be the best wedding gift we could give you, connecting your souls in such a way that no-one could ever try to take you apart.”

Without another word, two flashes of light passed through them simultaneously, slamming into one another in the middle to fuse briefly before settling in their shoulders. Nowaki shuddered as he felt them take root and explode into life. At his husband’s sharp intake of air, he looked up to see a small smile on his face and he called his name in a soft voice. Xavier turned his gaze to Nowaki’s as he brought Nowaki’s mouth to his own as he echoed Nowaki’s earlier sentiment.

“Totemo utsukushii!”

7 October 2013
Los Angeles, California

“So we’re heading over to baggage claim now. Tsu-kun and OB came to pick me up from the airport. I don’t want to think about anything but bed, because the flight was so turbulent that even I couldn’t sleep, and I don’t care about time, I want to hear your voice so call me when you get this, husband of mine. Miss you, love you, see you Friday!” Nowaki took the phone from his ear as he watched his son talking animatedly with the handsome man twenty years older than him. “He is completely taken with him. I don’t think he even knows how much he adores the man, and I don’t think he’ll see it until that man finds someone to love.”

Joining them, he smiled down at Tetsuo. “I forgot to tell you, Tsu-kun—Papa thinks he’ll be coming home on Friday, so we should be able to pick him up that night, have dinner at our favorite family restaurant!” Looking up at OB, he offered a smile. “You are, of course, invited.”

A small smile touched the man’s lips. “I’d like that. Thank you!”

His phone rang again, this one Emrys’ ringtone and he quirked an eyebrow. “One minute. I have to take this. Oh, the belt’s moving. Watch for my cases?” At his son’s nod, he answered, “Hey there, buddy! Long time, no talk to!”

“I’d heard you were in my country, but then when I get here, thinking I’ll abduct you and Tetsuo and take you back with me to L.A., I find that you’re already on your way there and that Tetsuo has been living on campus at Canicus Security, working with none other than Oblivion Bane—not that I originally had even the faintest idea as to who he was, but still! You’re in my town! What’s that about?” He laughed, the sound clean and pure, buoying Nowaki’s heart. “Hey, look, I’m spending time with Mum and Afon for a couple of days and I may get to meet Afon’s boyfriend before I head over. When I do, I’m staying with Lindsay and her brother—well, if he okays it—”

“If he doesn’t, I’ve a guest room with your name on it,” Nowaki interjected. “And you better say yes. Family doesn’t stay in a hotel.”

“Good deal and you know I will… if only for your breakfast!” Emrys teased. “I love your breakfasts!”

“So what day are you flying out? I’ll put it in my mobile so I don’t forget.” Nowaki pointed out one of his suitcases to OB and Tetsuo.

“Looks like it’s going to be this Friday… the 11th. Lindsay said she’s okay to pick me up from the airport and I’ve heard tell that we’re going to dinner with her brother, but I’ll let you know, okay? Maybe we can all get together for breakfast or lunch on Saturday?” Emrys suggested.

“I look forward to it. Hey, Emrys…” Nowaki began, taking a deep breath to calm himself before he finished, “I’m glad that you and that woman are done, even if you’re in pain. She was poison and you deserve better. Keep your eyes open. Love appears in the strangest of places.”

“Arigato, Nowaki.” He paused for a long moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was thick. “You know, Nowaki… you are the best mate I’ve ever had. I know we haven’t gotten much time together, especially since Xiaolong—and that’s mostly my fault, I know, but I want to make it up to you and you have my word, my word that I’m going to start making time. These last few years…” He trailed off for a minute and Nowaki knew that he was thinking of further back than just a couple of years; he was thinking back to Kiyoshi and all that he’d lost since that fateful October night. “Well, these last few years I’ve been a little lost, but you always seem to lead me back home. I can always count on that and I hope that the feeling is mutual, mate.”

“Family doesn’t stop with blood, Emrys. Xiaolong’s death wasn’t hard just for me. You loved him, too. We all have our own ways of dealing.” Nowaki swallowed hard. “We all miss him terribly and I know that he feels our love and that it helps him to rest patiently while he waits for us, but I know that he wants to wait a long time for us.”

“When I come into town on Friday, can we talk, mate? I need to ask you some things, some things I don’t quite understand.” Emrys’ voice trembled, alarming Nowaki. “I just need to be able to talk to someone about them.”

“You can always talk to me. I will always be here for you—” Nowaki broke off when he heard Emrys’ sister call his name. “I’ll let you go for now. Go spend time with Afon and your mother. I’ll see you Friday.”

“Nowaki, we got your cases and I just called for the car,” OB told him as he hung up and they approached with his luggage. “We wanted to take you out to eat tonight, but since you’ve had a really long flight, do you need to take a nap?”

Nowaki nodded. “I could really use about two hours, hai. It’s what, almost four here?” At OB’s muted confirmation, Nowaki glanced down at his phone before tucking it into the inside pocket of his jacket. “About forty minutes to the house will bring us to half-past four and two hours will put us at about normal dinner time of six-thirty or seven.”

“I’ll make reservations then, Chichi!” Tetsuo exclaimed. “Now let’s go home!”

The drive wasn’t as long as he expected, but then again, they made it before rush hour started on a Monday, and he was able to doze as he listened to the boys chatter about work and Emrys Marlowe. Nowaki found it kind of ironic that OB wasn’t much of a fan, though he supposed it would make him better friends with the man. Having not seen The Keeper of the Seventh Gate, Nowaki gave him some slack and as they were getting out of the car suggested that they watch it while he slept. “After that, tell me if you don’t appreciate his craft, OB. Emrys is a better actor than I am, and he’s gotten even better since Keeper.” And with a yawn, he disappeared into his bedroom to fall on the bed fully clothed, eyes closing as he pushed his face into Xavier’s pillow, seeking blissful slumber.

Four days to his arms… Xavier, I miss you already!

Dinner with the boys consisted of going to an arcade to play games and eat pizza and wings. Air hockey was a big player, as was skeeball, and they hunted each other in laser tag before doing a Dance Dance Revolution battle, one in which it was almost a tie between OB and Nowaki. Nowaki won, but only by one round. They put all their tickets in the pot to get OB a giant slinky, which put a smile on both the Shimazu-Blairs’ faces when he returned to them cackling like a fiend. Nowaki took a snapshot of the man and his prize and sent it to both Kenniths and to Xavier, adding in a text that read: So the turtle comes out of his shell for a giant slinky… who knew? He didn’t need a response, but he received one from his husband readily, one that spread his smile wider. No, koibito… the turtle comes out of his shell because your sun warms all that it touches, and his spirit feels safe enough to let that warmth touch its skin. It’s you that brought him out, and it’s you that will keep that smile on his face. Looking up at the stars in the sky, and the moon covered by clouds, Nowaki whispered, “Xavier… ah, Xavier… I am so blessed.”

The days spent with Tetsuo and OB passed by quickly, and soon enough, Friday dawned and OB had to return to the Canicus campus for a morning meeting. The three of them ate a quick breakfast before dropping him off, Tetsuo leaning out the window to make the man promise he’d let them pick him up afterwards. Nowaki grinned as OB agreed, and though it was a reluctant agreement, he saw the tiny smile that touched the man’s lips. As they pulled away from the curb, he tousled his son’s jet hair, pride heavy in his voice as he said, “Tsu-kun, I wish there were more people in the world with hearts as big as your own. I cannot begin to tell you how blessed your Papa and I were when you were given to us, and I plan on telling him that when we pick him up tonight.”

A playful frown touched his features as Tetsuo pulled down the sun visor and opened the mirror, his hands frantically trying to straighten his hair. “I think that you and Papa do not wish me to have hair that looks good as you are constantly messing it up!”

Nowaki laughed. “One day, you will have a son and when you do, he will complain about his hair and you will see why it is good to be Chichi!”

They had lunch with OB at a quarter to one, and as they were leaving the restaurant almost an hour and a half later, Nowaki’s mobile buzzed in his pocket. Taking it out as he got in the car, he slid a finger across the face to read a text from Emrys:

I think I’ve found the person to
spend the rest of my life with…
call me when you can—I have
to tell you about it. I am in town,
by the by.

Grinning, Nowaki pulled up Emrys’ contact and hit the Call button as he put the phone to his ear and the key in the ignition. He didn’t wait long for his friend to answer, and when he did, Nowaki told him, “Tell me everything!”

Chapter Six         Table of Contents         Chapter Eight