Kitty Ryan, 2004
Written for the Emelan SFF challenge. So, be wary.
Some strong-looking types from the otherwise pitiful, shrinking crowd had managed to haul the now unconscious Dedicate Frostpine onto a sledge. The dead were being covered. People were wailing, coughing; both. One woman was walking around in a circle, following her footprints exactly in the ash-stained snow. Around and around and around again, her pale blue eyes fixed in a blank stare. Tears were slowly starting to freeze on shining red faces, or evaporate into nothing on those still too fire-scorched for the icy Slyth to cool.
Jossaryk House was in ruins.
Bennat Ladradun watched flames make a wreckage of the wreckage, holding the cloth-coloured bundle of a baby in his arms. The baby his fire-walker had been clutching while she held back the blaze. His blaze, so quick and hot; staged enough to be orchestral.
He looked down at the unconscious Viymese Daja, dark and still, with snow melting all around her form to the very tips of her handfuls of long, thin braids. What am I going to do with you?
The baby was dead. Suffocated. It was a shame; he didn't want babies to have to die, but it would make Alakut listen. Make everyone listen, unable to ignore the tragic noise made by screams and naked, immovable silences. Daja would be sad when she woke, in her quiet, smouldering way. She had rescued finches, after all. That memory still bemused him.
A runner from the Bacanor household had moved away from the sledge carrying Frostpine, face full of concern mixed with fear. It is right for him to fear.
"I'll take the Viymese."
Ben looked up. "What?"
"Viymese Daja, Ravvot. I'll take her now. To Ravvot Kolborn and Mataziduh."
Down again; up, down; straight. Between the streaks of ash, Daja gleamed at Ben's feet. The runner was looking uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot. "Ravvot Ladradun?"
"Others are hurt, see to them. Take this little one. I'll look after the Viymese for now."
A brisk, decisive tone of voice could do wonders. It had sadly little effect on money-pinching, officious idiots of councilmen, but on the less powerful and the nervous its effect was undeniable. The runner, with one awed look, took the forlorn infant and walked quickly away. Ben could see him place a hand that trembled on the pacing woman's shoulder.
Just us again, burning-one, Ben thought, kneeling next to the prone girl. And you haven't answered me yet. What am I going to do with you?
Easing his hands under Daja's knees and behind her neck, Ben cradled her to his chest, and stood.
He gasped. Daja was heavy, a solid weight of long, hard muscle; her feet almost scraping the snow even as he stood at full height, and she burned. Ben could feel a stinging in his hands, against his chest and shoulder, on the inside of his arms: sharp, alarming; exhilarating. He kept very, very still. She didn't stir; her breathing, though ragged, did not change, staying ragged and slow. He could feel it, hot and dry, on his face. There was a peculiar scent to it. Like burning charcoal.
As quickly as he could, straining under her weight and keeping clear of the rambling masses, Ben carried Daja around to the side of the house, in the shadow of one of the wings that was still half-intact. He knelt again. It felt like a ritual.
You're beautiful when you're like this.
He took Daja in, still holding her close. He looked long and hard at her skin, smooth and brown, and at the defined, strong shape of the body beneath it. He noticed that her eyelids were slightly paler than the rest of her face, which looked sunken, defining her cheeks and keeping her mouth taut with worry even in her unconscious state. Holding his fire back must have taken a lot out of her. Ben, churning with adoration and envy, couldn't even imagine it. Her eyelashes weren't long, he noticed, but they were thick and black. Heavy smudges.
He watched her breathe, watched the pulse twitching in her dark neck, felt the ripple of her back and shoulder muscles under his fingers. She was oblivious. Daja was in his arms, smouldering, and bringing heat into him.
Shaking, Ben dipped his head, and brought his lips to that pulse-point. Pressed against it, licked it gently, tasting ash and skin and her. Still, she didn't move. There wasn't even so much as a flinch. Ben could feel his lips beginning to blister.
Do you even know how much of a danger you are, Viymese? Daja really was incredible. Clear, calm and astute, and yet blind to so many things. Ben lowered her into the snow, still supporting her upper body with one hand. The other, he used to run from her forehead down over her hair, the wiry, course texture of it engraining itself into his fingers. Resilient, harsh. Perfect for you.
Intense, sudden shocks of pain made him jerk back, hissing. Eyes wide, Ben looked at his hand. There was a small, circular brand-mark there, perfect and weeping. The sensation made his eyes fill up. Through a watery haze the man saw the glimmerings of gold and brass and copper at the end of Daja's braids.
Hair beads. Even your hair beads refuse to burn.
Ben laughed softly, and kissed her. Daja fit him well. There was no guilt. Pain swamped the guilt, and something truly indescribable swamped the pain. She fit him well. He worshipped her.
Feeling one of the girl's breasts against him, so soft compared to the rest of her, even her lips, Ben let his wounded hand stray to it, caressing. Breaking the kiss, letting her lay down properly, he took up a handful of snow and anointed the girl with it, cleaning away traces of the burnt out building and burnt out people. Fascinated, Ben watched as it began to boil away, leaving clean skin in its place. Fluid from the burn on his other hand gleamed on her body, before it, too, slipped away as steam. Ben touched her again, rolling long brown nipples between his thumb and forefinger, extending them, pressing them down. They were hardening in his grasp. Daja was limp and unaware, but her body was responding. Ben was making this woman, this girl, aroused, even if only her flesh and nerves knew it. He thrilled, taking a nipple between his lips, eyes closing briefly.
He used more snow to clean her face, between her breasts, her stomach. He lingered at her legs, feeling the strength in them. Always, his lips followed his hands. They were bleeding now. Daja deserved nothing less.
Ben spent a long time examining Daja's hands. They had long fingers, but they weren't fragile, tapering things. They were like the rest of her—capable, practical and strangely lovely. Hands that made beautiful things, and gloves for a hero: for him. He could feel their calluses in his mouth; the bones beneath them.
What will these hands touch next?
Cold iron? The arm of her teacher? His gloves? Herself?
Lightly kissing her wrist, the one solidly connected to her living metal palm, Ben pushed his thumb into its surface. The pliable brass gave beneath him. The twisting ribbons of pain that filled him completely at the contact meant that he nearly screamed. Biting it back, Ben imagined himself being filled with fire. Unholy. Incandescent. Unstoppable. He pulled away. All the skin on his thumb was gone, the shape and swirls of it left as an impression in the metal.
I'm inside her.
Slowly, ears ringing, mouth dry, Ben looked at his shirt. It was scorched, the shape of Daja's shoulder, her side and one of her arms clearly visible in the linen, amongst all the smoke-stains.
The goddess had marked him.
"Someone—Matazi and the girls, she hoped—had cleaned the worst of the grime from her skin while she slept…" – Cold Fire, p. 236.