A Fair Exchange

K. Ryan, 2005.

For Hyel, because it's fun to grant wishes.

It should not have been possible for a vampire—at least, a vampire who was still a Black Ribboner—to get a big rush of blood to the head (i), but corporal Maladicta found that, before long, she had to get the right way up or faint. This strange new weakness didn't render her incapable of doing this via a graceful flip off her ledge, landing upright and disgustingly unruffled, so close to Polly that she to either step back or clutch at Mal's shoulder.

The sergeant did the latter, and glared. "I despise it when you do that."

Mal raised her eyebrows. "Do what?"

"Go all…déshabillé. You just did a back flip!"

Laughing, surprised, the corporal reached out and gently tugged on one of Polly's damp curls. "I know that word. How do you?"

Polly shivered, but she looked Mal in the eye. The vampire was only the barest bit taller than she was, and Polly was sure that anything that even half-resembled a late growth-spurt (ii) would make her catch up. There was something oddly satisfying in that. "It fits you."

"It must," said Mal, low, "have been osmosis."

"Ozz…I did what?"

"An exchange of vocabulary with an exchange of spit," said Mal. "You kissed me."

Polly winced, blushing. "I thought vampires were meant to be charming," she said.

"Surely, darling, you know me better than that."

"'Darling?'" Polly handled the word gently, like something that was designed to explode, and the smile left Mal's face.

"You are," she said."

"Oh," said Polly.

Mal let her hand leave Polly's hair and trail slowly down the side of her face. "I'm not…used to this," she said. "Usually there's…bl-blood, involved somewhere."

"And you think I am?" Polly's head tilted to the side almost despite herself, eyes closing. "I don't know what's involved."

"Why did you kiss me?"

The eyes opened again. "To broaden my vocabulary!" she snapped. "Why do people kiss, Mal?"

"Well, child, there's something that happens when—"

"Because I…I…because I wanted to, and I…er…like you. That's the usual reason."

Mal's smile was returning, slowly. "It isn't, you know. But I'm glad you think so."

She was the one who started the kiss this time, thin fingers tangling in Polly's hair. There was a gasp; shared breath and a nearly-there familiarity that allowed faces to tilt and be accommodating, and everything was the right way up. Except that, for the vampire, it simply wasn't. Mal was meeting surprise and slight resistance where she was used to burning, helpless need. There were no curtains. She was used to softness; whimpering acquiescence, even the strange pliancy of someone deeply asleep. The low, long groan and hesitant, unsure tongue she felt and moved against instead shocked her, the callused hand that wrapped around and came to rest far down on her back as new and strange as it was arousing, and she knew that Polly's heart wasn't sure if it wanted to speed up or stop all together.

She has no idea what she's doing, but she's doing it anyway.

Mal decided she liked things the wrong way around.

"…So," Polly whispered. Out of the two of them, she would always be the one who needed to breathe.


"If this is…an exchange, what do you take from it?"

Mal took Polly's hand in hers, chuckling. "I like you, sarge," she said.

(i) For those who preferred the more traditional lifestyle, it was fair more likely. Admittedly, it was also someone else's blood.

(ii) This should be re-read as 'anything resembling a meal, square or otherwise'. Most Borogravian crops hadn't quite worked out that they weren't Abominable any more.