Under the Greenwood Tree
When they returned from the Faere, the sun was setting in a splash of golds, hot pinks, and lavenders. The air was warm and just a little sultry, full of evening insect and bird noises. A light breeze stirred the leaves in a soothing susurrus, and the nearby stream burbled cheerfully over the stones in its bed.
The Merry Men built up a sizable celebratory bonfire while Friar Tuck supervised the turning of a deer carcass over the cooking pit. Marian and the other women produced perfect loaves of bread from the stone ovens, and Will Scarlet and Much rolled a pair of wooden kegs out of the springhouse and tapped one. As the sun slid quietly below the horizon and twilight closed over Sherwood, all the Merry Men (and Women) gathered around the fire to drink, eat, sing, play instruments, and dance. Tam was laughing and strumming a guitar.
Nereid settled herself against one of the massive, solid trees and carefully sipped only the bottle of white wine she'd been assured was from Earth and ate some of the Earth-sourced bread and cheese. The bread was not as freshly-baked as the loaves being consumed by Tam and the others, but it had a dense, familiar texture and the taste of sourdough. The cheese was not hot and juicy as the venison the others tore into so lustily, but it was soft and rich with a goaty flavor and a slightly bitter rind, and it went well with the bread. The wine was light and sweet and tasted not very alcoholic, though she could feel her neck and shoulder muscles relaxing at last from the painful grip of hunger and thirst and stress.
They said they would help her, these Merry Men. Perhaps they could get horses or something else that would let them travel faster. Horses that weren't at all like Maelstrom...
Tam threw himself down beside her, laughing. "You're quiet, sweet," he said, leaning over to kiss her cheek. She could smell him, woodsmoke and beer and sharp masculine sweat. "Not a party girl then?" he said into her ear, his hot breath tickling over her neck.
She went very still and could only shake her head a little. She'd felt like this every time he'd touched her, like she was trying to reach out of her skin for him. It felt like it had been so long since anyone but Tam had been nice to her, had touched her like they liked her, had wanted to spend time with her. She'd thought that maybe this trip would be an adventure. In the movies, the trip would have made her and Wire friends. In a book, the Equestrian would have taught her the secrets of the universe. Instead they'd left her behind, and only Tam was left.
He helped her to her feet, repacking the remains of her dinner in its little cloth sack and handing her the bottle. "Come on, let's get away from the crowd," he said, and took her by the elbow and led her off beyond the circle of light, past the ring of low cabins, to the lush garden beneath Robin and Marian's treehouse.
There, someone -- some Merry Man or Woman -- had cleared a place under the arch of a graceful rose tree, and built a bed of some soft, dry grasses. There was a wool blanket they scarcely needed, and a scattering of pale rose petals.
Nereid sat down on the bed and carefully put her nearly-empty bottle of wine aside. "I shouldn't sleep," she said thickly, rubbing her eyes like a child.
"I can keep you awake," Tam said, his voice as warm as the lips that covered hers a moment later.
He was a good kisser, she thought. Very good. His mouth was soft and tasted of beer and maybe something stronger. His arms closed around her back, pulling her against him. His body was lean and tense, not at all soft like Sophie. She ran her hands over his arms and shoulders and back, feeling the wiry muscles there under the thin linen shirt he'd borrowed from Robin. Kissing Tam wasn't at all like kissing Coyote, which had been an awakening of some ravenous hunger she hadn't known she had, or like kissing Sophie, which was a little like kissing a lightning rod. He was hot and smooth and reassuring, beautiful beyond words, and full of sweetness... except when he wasn't.
She was lying atop him now, and he was crushing her still closer, and her head began to spin, though not, she thought, like that time with the tequila. No, she wasn't sick at all, just giddy and her eyes couldn't focus, which was all right because it was dark...
She had to help him with her bra -- the fastenings were, he said, strange and complicated to him. He had to pull his own shirt off because her fingers would not or could not manage the tiny brass buttons. He laid her down gently and kissed along her collarbone. It felt very good, particularly when he reached her nipples -- Sophie could spend hours there, making her writhe -- and oh that felt nice. She felt terribly guilty because her mind kept wandering. In the dark, she didn't close her eyes, and so the fireflies that danced in the air over Tam's perfect shoulder caught her fancy, and she would think of something that Sophie had said about the strings of little Christmas lights in her room, and then he would do something with his teeth that made her catch her breath.
Tam slid over her and she felt something that wasn't his hipbone press against her thigh. It startled her, knowing it must be... that. And she remembered the night with Sophie's polished steel toy and wondered vaguely if he would feel like that, smooth and heavy. Absently, she reached down and curiously followed the line of him with her fingertips. She had sometimes wondered what it looked like -- wondered that about every man who caught her eye, because she knew they were all shapes and sizes. She'd seen pictures. He made a growling noise into her belly.
He moved lower, and she raised her hips so he could pull her costume and underwear off. This was familiar territory, of course, safe territory, and if he was less skillful than certain other people she knew, could she really fault him? But it was very pleasant in a slippery way and she made appreciative humming noises.
She was warm and felt safe and happy and, well, liked if not loved, and the bed really was very comfortable, and it felt so nice... it was startling when something else started to happen, something that didn't feel quite so pleasant. It hurt, as a point of fact, and felt clumsy. Nereid opened her eyes and looked at Tam, who was bracing himself above her on his slender muscular arms, smiling down at her with his terrible, beautiful smile. She jerked, startled, eyes widening more, starting to pull away, but she was pinned at the hips. He looked so hurt by her abortive struggle that she stopped moving, and he shook his head slightly.
Nereid lay back, her hands gripping the blanket under her, abruptly cold and weary, wishing he would stop, finish, whatever. But he reached down between them and started doing something with his fingers -- she was too exhausted to even wonder about it -- and she couldn't stop the tiny whimper from her throat or the motion of her hips, and he kept it up until her traitorous nerves gave in, and she bit her lip to keep anyone from hearing. She felt him push hard a few times, felt his sharp exhalation on her throat, and then he folded down upon her, somehow heavier than a lead weight.
Bankrupt of any feeling, any thing at all, she stayed still, but her mind kept ringing, He didn't ask. He didn't ask. Not even a warning. Tears escaped from the corners of her eyes, and she tried to rein them in, afraid that her power would seep and make the bed unusable.
He slid his arms around her and rolled to the side, pulling her against him, and the blanket over them both. She drowsed there, her head on his shoulder, wrung out.
After a few minutes (or an hour? or another night?), he startled her with a low laugh. She looked up into his dazzling smile, and he stroked her cheek. "So," he whispered, kissing her brow. "How does it feel to be normal?"
From the Author:
These are all getting more difficult to write, and are also weirdly easier to write.
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