Well, this was totally unexpected. I never intended to write a sequel to Deliverance, but, hey, why not? Props to the film "The New World" which, though I didn't finish it, or manage to make out 97% of the dialogue, was exquisitely shot and inspired me to write something pretty, and whose title I sort of apropriated.
Three cheers for ilex-ferox, my intrepid beta.
This New World
Who are we to refuse what is given?
We have so little time in this world. So very little time. But in what time we do have, a few are given what others will only dream of. And, if we are among that few, how dare we – how can we - turn our backs on such a gift?
Gifts come with strings attached. That does not make them less of a blessing.
I have spent years rejecting the gift - the love - that has been offered to me. And still its warmth lingered, brushing the hair from my eyes while I slept, so that I when I woke it was all I wanted. What would it be like to turn my face towards such heat? To turn my face to this sun in my own private galaxy? To turn my face to yours?
From where I stand, I am looking down. In this world of mine the ocean has risen to cover the world. I can see the treetops through the waves. I can see the towers of Ys reaching ever upwards, towards the sky. They are not afraid of the sun.
From where I stand, I am looking down. What is it like to look up?
'You came,' he said.
'Of course I did, I said I would, didn't I?' She stood in the window as rain flew past her into the room. Wind blew the curtains from side to side. They billowed like sails in the night, impossibly pure and white for such stormy seas.
Shutting the window, she stepped down onto the carpet, her feet sinking into the waterlogged silk. As she walked towards him, its pattern of vines and leaves rippled out from her damp footprints as though she were walking on water.
'We have said a lot of things to each other over the years,' he told her.
'I meant what I said.'
'Which part? There have been so many things, and all of them have been different.'
'That I would give you what you want.' She licked her lips.
He was sitting on the couch, his eyes heavy-lidded as he watched her. Rain water fell from her hair in rivulets and it smelled of fear and desire. It smelled like trust and love and a whispered plea. It smelled like hope. Please, please. Grant me what I have been given but cannot have.
'I don't think,' he spoke slowly, softly, barely audible above the rain, 'that I am the only one who wants.'
She shook her head. Her helmet was placed gently on his desk, superfluous. She swallowed. 'But I am afraid of what I might receive.'
'It's rude to refuse a gift, Holly.'
'Artemis, we're not talking about getting clothes that don't fit for Christmas.'
'I realise that.'
She spread her hands. 'We've come this far, Artemis. I ... we ... care. Isn't that enough? Do we have to push our luck?'
'It was you who came to me.'
'Only because I can't keep away!' The words come out violently, tilting towards hysteria. Her hand swiped viciously through the air, underlining them. At the end of its arc, however, it paused, its fingers curling into her palm, before it dropped to her side, limp. Quieter, she continued, 'I want but I can't have. Don't you understand? I can't. So I mustn't want and I must make you turn away from me. Say you don't want me anymore. Say you don't care. Or I won't be able to leave you. I couldn't. Say it. You must say it. Please.' Don't.
'I will never say that.' His voice cut through the gloom, parting the sea around her.
'Artemis–' her voice see-sawed between terror and flooding, overpowering, relief.
'They gave you permission. To raise Ys, they gave you permission to come back to me.'
'Yes, but not like this. This isn't the same. This is not then.'
'Then what is this? What am I to you?'
Holly exhaled, her head tilted back to face the sky. As though the rain might come through his ceiling and wash her away.
'A gift,' she said at last, still looking up. 'You are a gift, Artemis.'
'You can't refuse what has been given to you, Holly.'
'Not even if it will be the ruin of me?'
'You said Callisto would never refuse Artemis anything; because there was nothing Artemis could ask that Callisto would not happily give,' he quoted her own words back to her.
She laughed, briefly, harshly. 'Oh, I'm happy to give you what you want, Artemis. I would like nothing more in the world, but-'
'There are no 'buts'. No 'howevers'. We have been given this, and it is unique. Who are we to refuse what has been given?'
He spread his hands out, palm upwards. She came towards him, looking down at his fingers, ghostly in the darkness. Hesitantly, her skin still wet, she traced a fingertip along his thumb. Even more slowly, her own thumb settled into his palm and her dark fingers curled around his. Like a metaphor for something larger, his hand closed over hers.
Standing in her wet clothes, dripping onto his beautiful sea of carpet, Holly brought their hands to her mouth. She looked up at him then, over the spiralling of their fingers. She looked him in the eye.
He smiled at her and she saw clearly what she had been missing. He had been terrified of her refusal. Convulsively, her hand tightened around his. Didn't he see that it wouldn't have mattered? Even if he had sent her away, she could never have gone.
With her free hand she traced the curve of his mouth as it tilted towards the sky. His smile grew. It spoke of fear and desire. It spoke of trust and love and a whispered plea. It spoke of hope.