Chapter Nineteen:

"Give me the name." Charles bared his teeth in a vicious sort of way I didn't much appreciate, so I dug my nails into the white flesh that settled the base of his neck. I could not be held accountable for the things my limbs did when annoyed, one must understand these things, mustn't they?

"Good to see I still have a friend left from the old days." My voice was a tumbled-tried jumble of dry paper-smooth words and my fingers twitched however slightly before relenting. After the connection of his surrender made its way to the part of my brain that was currently a stockpile of stacked steel on railway freight-cars, which I imagined was guarded and processed by a nice strapping lanky man whom unloaded at his ever glacier-slow will influxes of my recognition.

His left eye scrunched up, a nervous tick often associated when provoked into annoyance, Charles's fingers flitted ever-caressingly over the four tiny wounds. "Tessa!" He groaned out sounding very much like a petulant child "I'll have a scar now." His up-turned face glared at me in a way I was all too familiar with.

"Oh, Charlie honestly don't be a child. You've had worse."

His eyes narrowed "We are in a time of tense peace." Ever the great Rhetor in his greased black hair, velveteen hard-hat, and quirky shiny-smile. "Your presence is not going to be accepted willingly. Are you alone?" I laughed that damnable tinkling laugh I couldn't seem to shake as of late, patting the back of his neck it healed, he glowered unimpressed, and seemingly un-touched by my as I thought it was quite charming 'white-flag'.

"Come now Charlie don't be sour." My dimples stretched my face back just long enough for this native navigator of feminine wiles to crumble beneath them. "Right good sport, all fun and games and know-how, so what's the plan, and who's the who I've got the pay the debt to?" The prattling of my words began to spiral and with it went the loss of my diction. I did so despise rhyming, and it seems to happen so often lately, quite unfair if you ask me I hadn't had the tick in my prior life.

Charles stared at me, much like a cat would a dog or a banker would a loan-shark before he burst out laughing and hugged me. And I do say it was a proper sort of unwelcome grandesque engagement that swept the tatters of my skirt-ends up three inches from the ground whilst stealing the breath from my lungs and the shock right out from under my startlement.

Of – of all the nerve! The-the harloqen! Can men be called that? No. The bloke then the wretch. My mind seemed to slowly come to terms with be touched – as I held quite an aversion to the prospect of such acts I tended to avoid them at all costs and so wasn't prepared for it ever happening – just as my feet slowly came back to the ground.

Two steps made far too wide and far too fast to be made by a human took me away from this now imposing and frightfully, somehow threatening man and brought my back straight into the wooden thatched door bolt of the bar, which I hardly felt begin to form its welt on my spine. Hands I hardly recognized as my own shot forward and in four rigid movements downwards brushed clouds of sand off of me in plumbs, which was no comment on Charles's hygiene because safe to say was quite immaculate, but more due to my prior sun-bathing.

Exhale, in, out, repeat. "I would ask you not to do that or such – such acts along those lines again Charlie." My lips pulled tight into a line that I hoped conveyed some semblance of a smile for the poor man looked rather doltish ringing his hands to-and-fro like dirty-sopping kitchen towelettes.

"Come, come Charlie all forgiven and forgotten. It's really quite an odd and newly acquired tick I've come across you couldn't have known. Now off with the plan you've got in that rhetoric head of yours."

His back stiffened, posture straightened and just like that, reminding him of his former profession seemed to shake out of him this impish-pathetic-ness that had captured the air around us.

His plan, not yours, always the first hand never the ruler.

I flinched most notably apparently because Charles's paper-forehead crinkled in curiousness. He'd never known me to be hurt or rather if on the rare occasions I was hurt, he'd never known me to show the physical strain.

Still Dominus' words swirled like angry vultures, picking at my skin, plucking away my confidence his plan…always the first hand. God damned him.