An uneasy quality fills the apartment as she finds her way back to the living room. Darkness has fallen and a steady rain now patters against the windows. The dim light makes it harder for her to navigate the unfamiliar space.
Preston groans again, a tortured sound. Mary finds him curled tightly on the couch, bathed in a cold sweat.
"Tell you," she hears him rasp. "Won't. Lies. It's just a choice...always been..."
Every bone in his body seems to go rigid with pain. Worried, she shrugs off the coat and sits next to him, gripping his hand.
At her touch, he sucks in a breath. "Worth the price," he slurs. "Gladly..."
Mary doesn't understand, can't make sense of what he needs. She only knows he is in trouble.
"Preston," she says softly, laying a hand across his forehead. "Cleric..."
He bolts upright at the title. Eyes wide, he shoves her aside and rolls off the couch onto the floor. He kneels into a tuck, pressing his forehead to the black tile, trembling violently.
"Preston," she says again, careful to use only his name this time. Her hand drifts across his back. "It's okay. You were only having a dream."
He doesn't respond.
"Preston. Come on." Her voice firms. "John," she tries. "Get off the floor." Her fingers pluck at his shoulders.
Preston pushes himself back up slowly and sits on his heels. He glances at her.
"Come back here," she says, pointing at the corner of the couch. "Sit."
A full minute passes until he does as she asks. Then he leans back, almost reclining. His breathing finally begins to slow. He shuts his eyes.
Mary relaxes next to him. They are very close.
"Do you have nightmares a lot?"
"No," he says, grimacing. Then, he makes a small contradictory gesture with his hand. "Well...sometimes..."
"Since you've stopped the drug?"
He looks at her. "Yes."
"It happens." Mary gives him what she hopes is a reassuring glance. "Off the Prozium. You just have to find your new balance."
She is surprised when he laughs harshly. "If only it were that simple."
"What do you--?"
"Forget it," he cuts her off, scrubbing at his face with his hands.
His rejection hits her like a slap, but she is past the point of worrying about herself. She reaches out to brush the tangled hair from his brow.
He grabs hold of her and the abrupt move throws her off balance. She falls against him heavily, their faces only inches apart.
His gaze flows against hers in the weak light. He does not push her away.
"Did they..." she whispers. "Did they hurt you while you were in the Confessional?"
Preston goes completely still at the question. She knows he wants to lie but something keeps him from doing so.
"Yes," he finally says.
"Was it bad?"
He looks her dead in the eye. "I let the mother of my children be burned," he says softly. "I shot my best friend in the face at point-blank range. How bad could it possibly be?"
The pain in his eyes is lacerating.
Oh no, she thinks, heart aching.
Most people when they come off the Prozium are only too willing to disavow any responsibility for who they were before. But not Preston.
It seems there is no end to the depths of his character.
Mary can feel the rise and fall of his chest beneath her. One of her hands is lodged against the steady beat of his heart. Her fingers flex experimentally, pressing against his flesh.
She hears him draw a breath. Feels the quickening of his pulse. Glancing at him, she sees that he is watching her from beneath his lashes. Staring at her mouth.
Desire heats in her blood like molten gold; insidious, seeping through her entire body. Mary wants to know this desperately. Needs to feel him -- to assuage his hunger with every breath that she takes.
Back in her cell, she was ready to burn without challenge. Now she is here.
No matter what else happens, she won't give up. This is still another chance to fight back -- to be alive. To be alive with him.
Preston seems to sense what she feels. And yet, he is hesitant. Shadows crease the sharp contours of his face. She can see indecision and a certain degree of expectation.
He is waiting. Waiting for her.
Her heart slams against her ribs. Mary takes a deep breath and lowers her eyes for a moment before staring deep into him.
"Preston," she says softly. "Why this? Why...me?"
"Don't you know?" he asks. Then, slowly, deliberately, he says:
"Look at you."
In an instant, Mary is transported -- back to that terrible morning when he burst with the sense team through her door. She remembers it all. Her panic, her fury. The other Cleric, Brandt, with his insolent gaze. Preston's contempt -- the thunder of his voice as he railed at her.
And the way he threw her into the wall, into the mirror, coming all the way up against her. The glass was cold as ice on her skin; his breath a hot caress along her throat.
"Look at you," he had said. Their eyes touched in the mirror...
Look at you.
Mary gapes at him, speechless.
Holy fuck, she thinks. She was the first.
There, in the most dangerous place -- amidst the ready weapons and the blank stares -- she was the first one he saw without the lie.
Suddenly, it all makes sense. How he fought. Why he fought. The way he got out -- the deadly game he is playing with the Ministry. He is playing for his children.
He is playing for her.
She kisses him then -- hot, desperate -- saying things with her body that words cannot express. Preston has no clue how to respond, but he doesn't hold back. Lips glide and firm, throbbing with the pressure of unchained need.
At length, he pulls away, breathless. Terrified, she thinks.
He holds her off, fingers slipping beneath the ribbon at her throat. He tugs. The soft velvet falls away, leaving a trail of fire along her skin.
"Mary," he gasps. "I can't...I don't know what to do."
Words she never thought to hear a Cleric use.
She laughs -- a husky, unrestrained sound. "Shut up, Preston. I already know there's nothing you can't do."
His eyes widen at the familiar phrase. He swallows hard, clearly unnerved.
Mary arches a brow and sits up, toeing off her shoes. She eases out of the paper-thin tissue of her internment smock. Seconds pass as she lets him look. Fine bones, pale skin, nipples tight in the cool air of the room. The dark, unruly mane of her hair spills down her back like water. Her fingers brush over the sensitive peaks of her breasts before she cups a hand beneath each full curve.
Preston looks as though he has glimpsed the Apocalypse. For the briefest instant, she smiles.
He is so utterly helpless; as lost to her as he has ever been to the drug. Her confidence, even her delight, is something he probably doesn't understand, can't make sense of.
Victories over the Cleric are few and far between. And this one, though small, is sweeter than most.
She bends over, hands working the buttons of his shirt. The damp silk slides beneath her fingertips. He reaches up, burying his face in the hollow of her throat; tasting her skin, breathing her scent.
Mary strokes his hair until he lets her go. His shirt is open. She draws it back with a flick of her wrist. Glancing down, she stares at him, awed. Her fingers trace firm muscle and taut flesh, delineated in the silver-blue shadows of night.
The perfection of his body is another reminder of the cold grace with which he has ordered his life. Yet she can barely keep her hands off him. Hunger beckons -- a siren's song. To touch, to feel -- the way she would with any of the Underground's most treasured works of art.
Too bad this work of art is only complete when it's killing.
But there are alternatives. She trusts that now. Soon he will, too.
Preston trembles as her hands skim his waistline, pausing to loosen his belt. The buckle is cold, but his flesh is fever-hot.
Her lips brush his chin, his jaw...the tiny scar on his neck where he made his offerings to the Prozium God. Finally, she pauses just below his mouth.
Preston makes a small sound. His breath is warm against her face.
He needs more. He is desperate for more. She wants nothing else but to give it to him.
She kisses him again -- rougher, wilder this time -- beginning to lose sight of him in her rising need. Tensing, Mary grips his jaw, pressing her thumb to the corner of his mouth until he opens to her. She slides her tongue against his. The taste of him, dark and bitter, makes her head spin. Warmth builds between her legs -- a thick, velvet stroke of longing.
He whimpers slightly as she goes deeper, penetrating him. Sucking at his lower lip, she teases his tongue, drawing him forth.
Preston comes into her hesitantly, growing bolder when he hears her sigh of approval. He pulls away to nip at her chin before returning once more to plunder the secrets of her mouth.
A certain giddiness overtakes her as she lets him explore, but Mary knows it is too soon for her to let go completely. He is good, but not that good.
Her hands skip over his ribs. His stomach quivers at her touch. She teases his navel, fingers drifting to the sensitive flesh beneath it. Preston stills, holding on instinctively. Then, he thrusts himself against her.
A jolt of arousal rocks her and Mary sits upright again, fighting for restraint. Her knees clutch his hips as she holds him with a glance.
She finds his hand at her waist and tugs it free. Her thumb slides into his palm, splaying his fingers. She studies them intently.
He has good hands. Strong, capable...of what she dares not think. His fingertips, once cool, are now warm to the touch. Mary kneads the flesh between each firm bone. A hum rises in his throat.
She drops a quick kiss to his palm before catching his eye again. Then, she eases his thumb into the heat of her mouth.
Preston's eyes squeeze shut as she suckles him gently. He moans, head twisting from side to side. His hips roll beneath her.
The rough, salty tang of his skin fills her senses. She nips lightly at the pad of his thumb before sliding her tongue along the bend where it meets his hand.
He is panting almost reflexively now, the fingers of his free hand running up and down the curve of her inner thigh. Mary shudders faintly. Her head bows, hair tumbling down around them in shining waves. He cannot possibly know what he is doing to her, and yet...
Closer, he is drifting closer with each pass, until his thumb slips into the hollow where her legs meet.
She is hot, wet; his fingers glide over her flesh like silk on silk. The light, tentative touch is enough to threaten her sanity. Mary stifles a groan when he inadvertently brushes her clitoris.
But it is too late. Too late to hide the pleasure of her response. He comes back, surer this time, finding her center, stroking her firmly. Her very pulse throbs with need.
Mary glances down. He is watching her, eyes half-blind with desire...and something else. The clever heat of newfound understanding.
This is all spinning much too far beyond her control.
She goes down on his thumb once more, trying to distract him. Then, just when he least expects it, she skates a finger along the hard, aching length of his cock.
He jerks away from her mouth, clutching her hand so tightly it goes numb.
And then reality fractures. He shifts, phenomenally quick. Mary suddenly finds herself on her back. Her wits reel. She can scarce draw a breath before he is on her -- holding her down, parting her legs and surging into her with one swift, powerful thrust.
She swallows a cry and arches up beneath him. Preston grabs hold of her wrist, pinning it above her head. She lets go and he moves...driving into her smoothly...pushing her closer to the edge than she would have thought possible. He is still fully clothed and the fabric of his uniform rasps her sensitized skin. Her breathing turns ragged.
Fast. All of it -- happening too fast for her to guess or think or do anything besides lie back let him fuck her into oblivion.
His fingers roam her body; learning the shape of her, her texture, with reckless intensity. Into the bow of her waist...along the taut skin of her belly...over the tender curves of her breasts. She cannot help a soft moan of delight.
By now, all reason has fled. She is conscious only of the feel of him...hot, slick...buried deep inside her. Every draw, every thrust, grazes the desperate heart of her need -- touching a place no one has ever been able to find. He goes there again and again. And again.
It is too much. She cannot wait. Mary digs her heels into the couch and braces herself, drawing him farther, tightening all around him.
She sees Preston's eyes widen at the sensation, thrilling at his evident wonder. A delicate pressure builds along her spine.
"Yes," she murmurs, brushing his cheek. "Now..."
Mary's fingers slide through the soft strands of his hair...tugging his head back. She watches him come. The sheer elation in his eyes shatters her senses.
His climax is fierce, endless, violently complete. He cannot see her. He cannot even breathe.
And she feels it. All of him. His cock, his heart, his soul. Her limbs convulse with a pleasure so acute it is almost pain.
Mary grasps the broad strength of his back, nails scoring hard muscles that bunch and heave with the turmoil of their mating. Colors dance in her vision, blazing against the darkness. Down she goes with him, through the void, into a realm of fire and bliss and sweet release. There, she is conscious of only one thing. Preston. Melting down with her in the heat of absolute union.
He clings to her like a drowning man, his grip so tight that she fears she might break in half. There will be bruises to mark her slender curves in the morning.
Worth the price, she thinks, gasping. She will pay it again gladly -- as many times as he will let her.
The room quiets after a while, the stillness of early morning creeping back. Night clogs the air as the rain falls, as if the sky is hemorrhaging all around them. With a small sigh, Preston stirs. He eases them both down to the length of the couch. Stretching out, he shifts her slightly in the circle of his arms.
Despite the warmth of his body, Mary shivers against the darkness. Preston sweeps a hand over her cooling skin. He reaches down for his coat, drawing it over her, holding her close.
"Not dead, Mary," he murmurs. "Not anymore."
His voice is low -- thick with sensual repletion. It settles warm and liquid in her limbs. Mary's lips drift lightly over the pulse at his throat. Her fingertips trace through tears that still linger on his cheeks.
Tenderness blooms deep inside; a bittersweet ache in her chest. He owns a part of her now, she thinks.
A Cleric and a Sense Offender.
Who would have thought it possible?
'I wanted to change the world,' the prophet Huxley once said, 'But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.'
Mary tips her head back, resting it on his shoulder. Her eyes flutter closed with understanding.
Because Preston has made his decision. He is feeling -- for himself, for his family. For her.
She will not turn away from that.
And in the last moment of clarity before sleep comes, she knows they have finally found the answer.
Within their reality, the prison life has made for them, this is the only victory.
They have changed themselves. They have changed the world.
This much is certain, she thinks.
They have won.
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