|Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Shadowdwellers > Pleasure (Page 9)|
|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Sagan closed his eyes, his expression pained as he touched his forehead to hers.
“And they will want me to repent my sin with you and demand I pay penance for it. What will happen, Valera, when I refuse to do it? You are no sin and I will not let them tell me to treat you as such. I will lose my position for it; the work you think I long for will be taken from me because they will deem me a hypocrite to my faith. As a priest committing what they see as a gross sin and refusing to repent? I will be ejected as an example, and they would be right to do so. To let it slide would invite chaos into an institution already riddled with difficulties. I will defy them on the issue of you, sweetness, but I will not destroy my faith because of it.”
“And what of your family? Your friends? Your culture? Will you pretend they don’t matter? I feel you and hear you when you dream. The fear you have for the welfare of your people is choking you. You don’t have to tell me anything for me to know without a doubt that there are people you love in danger. And despite so much I don’t know about you, I do know you could not rest idle with me here when you would crave to be helping them there.”
He lurched sharply to his feet and paced away from her, telling her she had struck his rawest nerve.
“Look at you, Sagan,” she pleaded softly. “You are made to fight and defend for your culture. It is your special talent, just as mine is…”
“Talking to your cats?” he lobbed back at her.
“Trust me, it takes talent to converse with a cat,” she said wryly.
“I’ve come to see that,” he agreed, his chuckle soft and a little distant. He remembered the first time he’d caught her talking to the fat gray cat named simply Fat Baby. At first he’d thought she was just a bit eccentric from being alone so long, but it hadn’t taken him long to recognize the telepathic connection she was using so offhandedly. Valera had told him the cats had magic because they were familiars, a special sort of cat that sought out magical and supernatural beings to make homes with. But he would argue that it was her magic that made the connection possible, otherwise why wouldn’t the cats have spoken to him? He was supernatural and a telepath. If that didn’t suit their need for conversation, then what would?
Her cats were very much like headstrong, and sometimes spoiled, little children. But she managed them with endless patience and practicality. He could see that even from just half of an interaction. She would make a very special sort of mother one day.
Something he couldn’t, in good conscience, be a part of. Hybrid babies that were half Shadowdweller couldn’t survive in the human culture. There was too much light and technology that shed light. If a hybrid child was even born in a human hospital, how could it survive for even a minute after leaving the dark safety of its mother’s womb?
There was only one surviving hybrid of human and Shadowdweller that he knew of, and even she was weak and fragile. Raised in a human world, she’d been treated as the child of a devil and had grown up delicate and brittle in an abusive world of light. Now she lived in the underground city with her second culture and it was hoped it would strengthen her.
He could offer Valera nothing but what would be left of him after Sanctuary got through stripping him of his title and his work. She was right; he would be superfluous and out of his element here, whereas in the Shadow city, he could make a new purpose for himself without the priesthood. But how could he live so close and never reach out to her again? How could he find and fulfill any purpose without her to do it for? What would it mean and why would it matter? What he did as a priest he did to preserve their culture and to give people the freedom to find faith and security and love. Love of themselves, love of the gods…and the love of one special other. If he couldn’t rescue it for himself, how could he save it in others? How could he continue to love and feel passion for a culture that left no room for someone as special and precious as Valera was?
He couldn’t. No more than he could survive and live in love within her culture, because they certainly had no room for him. One world meant almost certain death, the other meant survival only, but not passion.
“I have no regrets,” he said softly, although he couldn’t look at her just then. “Always remember that. I would do this time over again in a heartbeat, even knowing the conflict I face because of it.”
“I wouldn’t,” she said in the barest whisper, making him jolt around to stare at her. She looked up at him from where she continued to kneel on the floor, tears dropping one after another over her cheeks. “I would rather let you live with peace and contentment just the way you were before you came here to me. I would rather you be happy!”
“You mean ignorant!” he burst out sharply, storming back across to her and dropping to his knees before her. “You think I would be content living life without knowing what we have? Drenna, Valera, I love you like nothing else in my life! Not even my gods and my faith can touch what I feel for you! What else could have dissolved both our defenses so quickly if not the deepest and most powerful of emotions?”
“Lust?” she offered with a nervous and watery little laugh.
But he did smile crookedly at her for that.
“I believe lust like that cannot exist all on its own. I have felt lust, seen it…I’ve even taught about the nature of it to many generations of my people. What we experienced was a lust that became a swift bridge to something more.” Sagan reached for her hands, nearly crushing them in his as he squeezed her in desperation. “I won’t leave here if I have come to this emotion one-sided. If I have, I have failed you. I thought…I thought you felt the way I do—”
“I don’t want to feel the way you do!” she cried, gasping for breath all of a sudden, her hand jerking free to press against her laboring chest. “I don’t want to feel this, Sagan! You think it’s better to love and lose than never to have loved at all, and you’re wrong! God, you’re wrong! This hurts! It fucking hurts and I hate you for it! I hate you for it!”
Val tried to rip free of him completely, but she never could do anything Sagan didn’t want her to do when it came to the physical, and this time was no different. He enveloped her in his arms and pressed her hard against his heart until she could do nothing but scream. She had never cried so hard in her life and it felt as if she were going to die of grief.
“You have to leave,” she sobbed in anguish. “I can’t bear your guilt, your helplessness and your pain any more than I can bear this love. You’re killing me. God, please…please…”
Sagan shuddered as her agony washed through him and he swallowed his emotions until he all but choked on them. It had been selfish of him to demand her feelings, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t deserve them when he could offer her no solace and no future, but how could he face the recriminating future that awaited him without knowing if she loved him? He had never thought himself a coward or weak until he thought of facing the future alone again. He also knew she felt just as weak and afraid of that future as he did, except she had tried to do the right thing. She had tried to free him with a measure of dignity.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he whispered painfully soft against her ear. He took a deep breath, saturating himself in her lilies and sunflowers scent. “Please don’t forget what I said. I have never loved anything so much as I love you.”
Sagan stood up, prying himself free of their embrace, and left her on her knees on the floor as he left the room. Val sobbed silent, airless sobs, bending over her knees…until she heard the front door close behind him.
Penchant, Fat Baby, and Ulysses found her curled up in her bed several hours later, numb and spent, for the moment, and simply staring at the darkened window.
“What will he do when daylight comes?” she asked them on a whisper, her voice lost to her grief.
What he has always done, I imagine. He did live over a century and a half before finding you, after all.
Nice, Penchant. Way to be sensitive, Fat Baby scolded sarcastically.
I only meant she shouldn’t worry. He is capable of caring for himself.
Just what she wants to hear, Ulysses chimed in. How well he can get along without her.
It’s what she needs to hear. And she needs to remember the same goes for her, Penchant sniffed.
Fine, Fat Baby sighed, but at least give her some time before you get practical on her.
“Yes. I need time,” she murmured, closing her eyes.
Penchant’s tail twitched as his feline heart went out to the human Witch who had taken such good care of him for so long now.
Time, he thought. She needs time.
Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Fat Baby thought dryly.
Without supplies or proper clothing, and because he had to be so cautious of finding places to keep him securely out of sunlight for Alaska’s short winter days, it took a long time for Sagan to return to Elk’s Lake. Getting caught in a storm didn’t help matters. One day there was no shelter anywhere for him and he had to cross into Shadowscape to keep safe from the sun. The landscape of pure darkness, except for the light of the moon, was the safest place a ’Dweller could be. For two days. After that they started to sink into a euphoria that made them a bit crazy. Shadowscape had to be used with caution because time moved very differently there than it did in Realscape. There was never any telling whether he would end up hours or days off schedule when he shifted from one to the other.
By the time he reached the research station guarding the entrance to the exhausted mines that had been transformed into the Shadowdwellers’ winter city, Sagan looked and felt like he had been through Lightscape naked. But his priest’s uniform was a universal identifier to the guards at the gate and he was ushered in as they tried to take him into the nearest building to tend to his state of exposure and exhaustion. He shrugged them off and walked himself directly into the city, not stopping until he was about to step into Sanctuary.
Sagan struggled to catch his breath and to control the shivers of his body as the significantly warmer environs of the city thawed him from his near-frozen state. The harshness and numbness of survival in the wilderness had kept him focused every instant on what he needed to do to keep alive and keep going.
But now pain rushed into his warming extremities even as it rushed across his heart and soul. He stared down at the line of decorative tile that demarcated the holy ground of the temple and the vaster Sanctuary that housed it. He realized it had never occurred to him to simply keep silent about what he had done. Probably because it would be a dishonorable deception of omission and it simply wasn’t in him to do that. He might have broken a vow, but he was no hypocrite. He had spent ages speaking religious law and its consequences to those who broke them, preaching how only repentance could allow forgiveness. To hide a wrongdoing was in itself a sin.
He had done wrong to break that vow. He admitted that. But it was the vow alone he regretted and not any of what followed. Sanctuary and temple law, however, would not be so selective.
The loud call of his name brought up his attention as Magnus rushed across that shiny tiled flooring to him, his golden eyes alight with relief and disbelief all at once. As he drew closer, however, Magnus’s delight in seeing his friend alive altered dramatically into an aghast shock and worry for his state of health.
Magnus reached Sagan and immediately dropped his shoulder under the other priest’s arm to help keep him steady on his feet. Sagan remained utterly silent, but Magnus could feel how he stared at him as if searching for an answer from him.
“Come, Sagan,” Magnus bid him gently. “Let’s take you in to the healers.”
Sagan heard lighter steps reach them and he saw K’yan Daenaira hurrying up to them.
“Sagan! Oh thank the gods!”
She was less gentle with him, throwing her arms around him to throttle him with a hug. It confused him, that familiarity. He didn’t know her that well. And what he did know of her told him that she was a prickly thing who did not lower her defenses easily; something he could respect as a swordfighter.
“Daenaira, let him breathe.” Magnus rescued him. “She is simply relieved to see you are alive,” the head priest explained as his free hand drew Dae away. Dae was energetic as she quickly ducked under Sagan’s opposite arm to support him as Magnus did.
“That treacherous k’ypruti Nicoya is dead. I am so glad she didn’t kill you! I thought she had. She claimed she had. Henry is doing well, by the way. Though he has been very worried for you. So have I. When we couldn’t find a trace of you, and after learning that Nicoya was really Acadian’s daughter, we feared Acadian had taken you away for her own amusement. But here you are! Safe and sound and—”
“Acadian?” he echoed quietly. “What has she to do with this? Why would I fight Nicoya? And what happened to Henry?”
And with those distracted questions in his mind, Magnus and Dae walked him easily over the line of tile into Sanctuary.
“He remembers none of it,” Magnus mused as he held his handmaiden warmly against his side. He stood outside of the healers’ clinic a full day later, watching as Sagan sat in bed looking even quieter and more introverted than was usual for him. “The healers figure the trauma of the poison wiped it from him. He must have escaped Acadian somehow and made his way back. He’s keeping quiet other than to say he remembers nothing of fighting Nicoya, her insurrection, or how he had gotten himself poisoned.”
“That bitch cut him with one of her toxic weapons, that’s how,” Dae grumbled. “I wish I could kill her again.”