Episode 23: Confessions

He looked at her for a brief moment and nodded, surging forward to wrap his arms around her, pulling her up to his chest and kissing her deeply. His arms were locked around her securely, her hot, damp skin pressing against his. He could hear her heart hammering in her chest. He slid one hand up her back to the base of her neck. She dug her nails into his shoulders, but he ignored it, holding her there, praying that she wouldn’t fight him.
His kiss was passionate, but gentle. Kasei just stood there, unable to move and incapable of doing anything. Her mind raced as quickly as her heartbeat. Thoughts formed and vanished before she could make any sense of them. She dug her nails deeper into Rhade’s shoulder, but not hard enough to draw blood. It should have been enough to cause him pain, but all he did was hold her tighter.
He broke off the kiss and looked down at her. “Kasei, I know you don’t like me, but the problem is that my feelings for you are very much the opposite. At first, I thought you were odd. Then I started to fall. I’m still falling. Every moment I’m with you, I fall a little more. It’s stopped mattering how much you hate me or Nietzscheans. I can’t help how I feel. I love you.”
Kasei shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rhade, but-“
“Don’t. Please, don’t. Don’t say it. Just let me have this brief time. It’s all I want.”
“All you want? I highly doubt that.”
“It’s all I can be sure I can get.”
“Has anyone ever told you that it’s very rude to interrupt a woman when she’s trying to talk to you? Especially a Nomaien woman?”
“I’ve never met one before I met you.”
“You thought you knew what I was saying before I got four words out. Why I’m bothering to waste my time on this is beyond me.”
“What were you going to say?”
“I don’t hate Nietzscheans.”
Rhade stared at her. “Really?”
She nodded. “The healing not only repaired what they did to me but eased the psychological trauma the damages inflicted on me.”
“But you still hate me.”
She hesitated. “I’m still trying to figure that out. I walked out of there yesterday still hating you. When you brought me clothes, I still did. I wasn’t so sure when I woke up this morning. What you did, moving me into my bed, was a nice gesture even though it was misguided.”
“Humans do say that the road to hell is paved by good intentions.”
“Why? Are they short of bad ones?”
Rhade laughed. “I’m not sure why they say that. They just do. Anyways, please continue.”
“I’ve been trying to rationalize my dislike of you with the fact that I seem to think about you a fair amount of the time, mostly concerned with how to get rid of the life debt, what to do afterwards, ways to take you out in training sessions, or just how to avoid you. At least, that’s how it started. Ever since the night we sat by the lake, the night I wound up with all those guiveri in my system and you kissed me. Remember?”
“How could I forget? You were just asking for that kiss. ‘What could possibly make this stranger’? Really now.”
“I told you about Nomaiens and physical contact. There hasn’t been enough for a strong addiction, but there’s been enough before now that you’re in my head. I don’t want you there, but I don’t want you to leave either. It’s making me crazy and probably that’s what’s doing it to Yuki.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
She brushed his cheek lightly with a damp finger. “You could relax your grip on me. It’s starting to hurt a little.”
“Sorry,” he said, relaxing a bit.
“These things are meant to squish a bit, but that was beyond their limits.”
“They’re very nice. It wasn’t bothering me at all.”
“Typical,” she sighed. “Show a man a pair of breasts and his mind leaves the building.”
“That’s what they’re purpose is. Well, besides feeding babies. They’re meant to be attractive.”
“Lucky me,” she grumbled.
“I think you’re very attractive, Kasei, regardless of what your people consider to be the height of beauty. On most worlds I’ve been to or heard of, you would be considered a great beauty, especially on Terazed.”
She looked away from him, shaking her head. “That doesn’t matter. Now that I’m here, it appears that I won’t be leaving again.”
“Why?”
“Mother wants me to stay. She’ll likely arrange for something to happen to you, something life threatening, to rid me of that. Once it’s out of the way, there’s nothing stopping her from going through with my marriage with Ryuujin.”
“Isn’t there a way to stop that?”
“What? My mother or the wedding?”
“Both.”
“So far, having you around has been keeping both at bay, but it won’t work forever. Sooner or later, this life debt will be repaid.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” he said quietly, cupping her face in his hands.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He swallowed nervously. “I’m reluctant to bring this up, but if you were otherwise engaged, your engagement to Ryuujin would be invalid, right?”
“Only something like the debt will do that, but it’s a temporary state.”
“Is there some way to make the debt more permanent?”
“Why would anyone want that?” she asked, shocked.
“Just listen. In any of your stories or histories, has anything like our situation ever happened?”
“Occasionally. In bard ballads it happens more often, but those aren’t real stories.”
“What’s the usual outcome of it?”
“In the real histories and stories, they usually part ways once the debt is repaid and the one pines after the other. In some cases, they’re both killed. In very rare cases do both parties share the feelings.”
“What I propose is this. We could pretend to the outside world that we’ve discovered feelings for each other. Well, rather you’ve discovered that you reciprocate my feelings.”
“Are you out of your mind? No one would believe that for a second!”
“They would with a little help. Dylan and the other members of the crew are well familiar with Nietzscheans and our customs. A Nietzschean female chooses a mate based on the superiority of his genes. Once she’s done that, our weddings are very private matters, consisting of only the male and female. There’s an exchange of wedding bands and that’s it.”
Kasei looked skeptical. “Go on.”
“If Dylan or the others saw you wearing a double helix band on your arm, they’d understand immediately and explain to others about it. Since it’s the women who choose, there wouldn’t be any suspicion on their part that this is fake.”
“And you have one of these bands? Assuming I’m crazy enough to do this in the first place.”
“It’s in my bags,” he told her, shifting uncomfortably. “Hope does strange things to men.”
She thought about it for a moment. “There would have to be ground rules. I’ll act appropriately in public, but in private, nothing will change.”
“We can’t be fighting, though,” he pointed out. “Servants have a tendency to pick up on things.”
She nodded. “We’ll also have to let Yuki in on this. He’ll know something’s off and will ask questions. If he knows, he can help.”
“Agreed.”
“One more thing. Are you doing this to help me out or because you think it’s the closest thing you’ll get with me to the real thing?”
“Because it helps you. I won’t pretend that this doesn’t make me happy.”
“I’m glad you’re honest about it.” Kasei nodded. “Alright. We’ll give it a try.”
He smiled and kissed her again. “As soon as Yuki brings our clothes back, I’ll get you the band.”
“We’ll get dressed and lets get going, then,” Yuki said, coming around the corner, startling them. “What? You thought I was just going to leave you two to talk this out? I stayed nearby in case things got ugly.”
“I’m going to throttle you when I get out of here!”
“You do that. Bye!” Yuki dropped their clothes on the ground and made a run for it.
Sighing, Kasei pulled away from Rhade and headed for the edge of the pool. She started to climb out, but remembered that she wasn’t alone. She looked back at him.
“What’s stopping you?” he asked, heading towards her. “It’s not like I don’t know what’s there. You were squished pretty close to me after all.”
“Feeling and seeing are two different things.”
“I’m confident that my mental image is very close to reality. Besides, I don’t mind if you see me.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t.”
“Why don’t we climb out together?” he suggested. “On three?”
“It’s lucky for you that I’m in danger of turning into a prune if I stay in here much longer.”
Rhade counted to three and they pulled themselves out of the water. Kasei made a dash for her robe. Rhade watched her wrap it around herself. He was pleased to note that his mental image of her was bang on. There were some scars lining her skin, but it was otherwise perfect. <i>No wonder the Drago-Kazov had her pined for a Nietzschean reborn. The woman is built like one of us. Smaller in the chest than I’m used to seeing, but that’s fine with me.</i>
Kasei did her best to not look at Rhade, but caught a brief glimpse as he wrapped his robe up. <i>Oy. So that’s what they mean by perfection. Not that I see many men in the buff, but oy.</i> She shook her head. <i>If I have to pretend to be married to him, it’s just lucky that he isn’t hideous. Far, far from it…Stop that! Don’t even entertain those ideas, Kasei! You have other things to worry about.</i> She picked up her clothes and headed into a corner to dry off and change, noting that Rhade did the same, but had enough tact to go to a different corner. She could feel him watching her as she dressed, but chose to ignore it. She pulled on a pair of dark tan leggings and sleeveless top.
“Aren’t sleeveless tops a bad idea in the desert?” Rhade asked.
“I have a jacket with my packs. You’d best wear one, too.” She took a look at his clothes. “That’s better. You won’t burn as bad in that if you’re careful. Just keep your jacket and head wrap on and you’ll be fine.”
“I’m not worried about burning.”
“You should be, even with protection.” She picked up her robe. “Let’s get our packs and head back to the city. I want to get all of this over with. The sooner I’m back to fighting Magog, the happier I’ll be.”
“The distance it will put between you and your mother not having anything to do with that happiness.”
“No. Nothing at all,” she said blandly, walking down the stairs.
Yuki met them at the bottom of the stairs. He had all of their packs waiting at his feet, holding their jackets in his hands. “Let’s get moving, people. It’s almost too hot to travel now. We’ll be lucky to get any kind of distance before it gets too dark to travel.”
“You were the one who stole our clothes, Yuki,” Rhade pointed out.
“It was for a good cause,” he said innocently. “Rhade, come help me load these onto the Sandrunners.”
He nodded, picking up half of the packs and following Yuki through the portal leading out into the desert where the three animals waited.

“Yuki, despite how upset I sounded about what you did, I have to thank you for it.”
The other man grinned. “I know. I saw and heard most of what happened. So. What do you think of my sister now?”
Rhade sighed, leaning against the side of his Sandrunner. “I thought she was beautiful. Having held her like that…I don’t know if I should have brought up my plan.”
“Why? It’s a good plan. I would have brought it up if you hadn’t.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…I don’t know if I can deal with just pretending.”
Yuki stared at him. “You’re serious about her, aren’t you?”
“I wish I wasn’t. I heard what she said about not hating Nietzscheans anymore. I’m finding it a little hard to believe. And what she said about me. I’m still trying to make sense of it.”
“Having never heard anything like that from any woman ever, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’d say that it was close enough to a confession of love, but unless she makes any sort of move, I wouldn’t say that just yet.”
“Define move.”
“If she offers to share food from her plate or makes a physical move towards you. You know, touching you when she doesn’t have to, snarling at other women who come close to you, all the way up to actually kissing you. Things like that. Watch for them.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said as Kasei joined them.
“Keep what in mind?” she asked.
“I was just reminding Rhade how to tie his head wrap. No sense in him getting a heat stroke or something.”
Kasei nodded and mounted her Sandrunner. “Let’s get going.”

Six hours of hard travel later, they stopped in the same place they had before. The Sandrunners dropped to their knees once the packs were removed. They were exhausted, as were their riders. Yuki walked over to a tree and collapsed at its base. Kasei simply sat down beside Sharahase and leaned on her side, looking up at the fading sunlight. Rhade walked over.
“Not sending the sun off to sleep?”
She shook her head wearily. “Too late in the day for that and I’m too tired right now,” she said wearily. “I hope Yuki has enough energy left to throw a meal together.”
Rhade glanced over at him and shook his head. “He’s asleep. If you don’t mind, I can probably throw something edible together from what he’s got in his packs. It might not be the greatest meal you’ve ever eaten, but it will be food.”
“I need food too badly to complain about who makes it or what it tastes like. I’ll make you a deal. You cook. I’ll get the shelters set up. The desert is no place to be sleeping without them.”
“Deal.”
Rhade rummaged through Yuki’s packs to take out the larger pot and some food items that looked like the ones Yuki had served them last time. He chopped things up while Kasei got the smaller shelter set up. After three tries to get the stove lit, he called Kasei over. She laughed and turned a knob before pushing the button that turned it on. He thanked her as she headed off to get the next shelter up. He put the pot on the stove to cook the meat and vegetable slices a bit before adding some water and seasonings. He let it sit for a little while. Kasei joined him once the second shelter was up.
“Tell me that’s going to be ready soon.”
“I hope so, but these ingredients are unfamiliar to me.”
Kasei took the lid off and looked inside; poking the things inside with the knife he’d used to chop them. “I’d give it another ten minutes tops. These things were already precooked a little to make traveling easier.”
“Good to know.” He stared at the small flames under the pot. “I hope this turns out alright.”
“It smells alright. I’m so hungry it doesn’t matter, really.”
“So hungry, you could eat me out of desperation?” he teased.
“Don’t tempt me.”
“Why not? Afraid you might do something you’d regret?”
She snorted. “Hardly. I’d ruin my supper.”
“I didn’t taste that bad, did I?”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. If I ate you, I’d have no room for whatever you’re cooking. I’ll try that first. If it’s bad, I may just try and eat you.”
“You’d have to catch me first,” he grinned, stirring their meal.
“Is that a challenge?”
Rhade leaned towards her. “Why not?”
Kasei growled low in her throat and looked as if she were about to pounce. Yuki stirred in his sleep, moaning, breaking their eye contact. He sat up and looked around, confused.
“Dinner will be ready soon if you’re hungry, Yuki,” Rhade told him.
“You cooked?”
“I wasn’t sure if you were going to wake up anytime soon and Kasei might have decided to take a bite out of me if I didn’t.”
Yuki smiled tiredly. “She must be starving by now.”
“Let’s not get into that again.”
Yuki came over and prodded the meal. “I’d say this is ready if you want to eat.”
“I’ll go get the bowls,” Rhade offered, getting up.