It's funny the words you come up with, the phrases you coin in an effort to find an easy way of referring to things that defy easy description. They'd developed their own peculiar jargon, a dialect composed of science and pseudo-science and more specious terms.

For her, the words were fairly simple ones: "invulnerable," "indestructible." Not a very accurate description, but she liked the sound of it and did her best to foster the misconception. And then of course, there were other words, for a concept that had never been very easy to define. "Absorb." "Drain." "Imprint."

Privately, she thought "rape" might have been a little closer to the truth.

Nobody else thought of it that way, not that she'd ever actually talked about it with any of them. She suspected they'd find the idea shocking. But what was sex, really, but taking a part of someone else into yourself, or pushing a part of yourself into them? What else did you call it when with a touch you took everything that made someone who and what they were and held it inside you? In a way, it was the ultimate sexual act, the most personal and intimate of penetrations.

Using it as a weapon made it rape, and she wasn't quite sure who, in the equation of herself and her victim and her power, was the rapist.

No, nobody else thought of it quite like that, and she didn't care to suggest the idea, maybe because she thought they'd insist that she stop and maybe because she was afraid they'd make her keep doing it anyhow. Mostly because she really didn't want to find out which it would be.

She'd come to her own conclusions long ago, in any case, and if they hadn't understood quite what they'd asked of her, that didn't change the principle of the thing. What needed doing needed doing; every one of them who had taken up this fight had understood, or had come to understand, that they would have to make sacrifices for the greater good. Nobody had promised an easy ride.

They'd made a believer of her. She could whore herself for the dream if that was what it took.

And for a while it hadn't really mattered so much. She'd been given her space, and she'd reached an understanding with herself, found a balance that worked. Everything had been, if not exactly fine, at least more or less all right.

But "all right" was looking farther and farther away these days. That delicate, hard-won balance had been upset by the presence of the one person on earth who had some inkling of the true nature of what she did, the one person crazy enough to want what everyone else took pains to avoid.

The hell of it was that he almost understood. Almost - but not quite.

She supposed it was just his nature that led him to think of what she'd do to him as good instead of bad. That it would hurt didn't even enter into it, not for him; it was like he thought of the unconsciousness that would follow as a sort of glorified afterglow, the blissful stupor that would rightly follow the ultimate sensual experience. She knew it drove him crazy that she would take from anyone else what she wouldn't take from him.

But that was the problem. With anyone else, it didn't matter. With anyone else, it was a distasteful necessity, something she did when she had to but didn't enjoy. As long as she thought of it that way, there was a degree of impersonality to it, a small element of protection.

Changing that, doing it not because she had to but because she wanted to - that changed everything. If she took for pleasure instead of necessity, if she let herself enjoy it, there was no guaranteeing she could stop herself. And that was dangerous, a game of Russian roulette with his life at stake and her finger on the trigger.

And even in spite of that, it might almost be worth the gamble - but it was just too much, too fast. When the simplest touch would remove every single barrier between them, there couldn't be any kind of foreplay. There would be no anticipation, no slow, sweet thrill of discovery, once every memory and thought and plan and fear and hope had all been thrust upon her in one violent rush. You couldn't fall in love that way.

He didn't understand that. He offered too easily, pushed too hard when she refused. She could feel the pressure of his wanting from across a room, without even having to look at him. So she kept pushing him away, and he kept coming back, and the two of them circled one another in a dance of flirtation and mistrust and frustration that never got them anywhere.

It wasn't fair, but then, neither was anything else.