Red ice washes over me. That’s how he feels now, just cold, keen anger. I shiver as he withdraws.
“Long enough,” he answers aloud, sitting down beside me. “If you wanted to know, why didn’t you ask?”
“Two reasons. The last time we talked, you didn’t seem receptive to discussion.” That much is true. “You were . . . angry.” Now there’s an understatement. His flat, dark gaze roves my face, but he will not unnerve me. “And I don’t think you want to change, so you might lie, hoping to misdirect or dissuade me, but you can’t stop me from finding out like this.”
“I could if I killed you.” In a motion so fast I scarcely register it with my eyes, his big hand encircles my neck.
He doesn’t seem angry; that’s the strange thing. It’s an almost casual gesture. That’s what scares me most. Possibly without the drugs, he would have done it before I even knew he meant to. I realize I don’t know him as well I thought I did.
Frankly, I’m surprised to find this much darkness in March. Somehow I always thought he exaggerated his wickedness out of some misguided need for expiation. But he wasn’t kidding. He’s a killer, through and through.
I turn my face up, exposing my throat completely.
Constance asks, “Shall I summon assistance, Sirantha Jax?”
If I could, I’d shake my head. Since I can’t, I answer, “I don’t want negative attention. We spun the riot, but we might not be so lucky a second time.”
Especially not if it’s tied to March, who escalated the violence.
March watches my face as if he doesn’t understand why I haven’t panicked. My heart thumps in my chest like a wild thing, but deep down, I can’t believe he’ll hurt me. Maybe I’m crazy; maybe in a few seconds, he’ll tighten his grip and crush my windpipe.
Right now all I can see is him cradling me in his lap and promising he’ll always come for me. I see him holding me up in a cold, wet alien jungle, muddy water washing over our boots. I see him kneeling in a primitive hut and sharing my wonder over the baby Mareq. I see him setting off to try to save those weaker on Hon’s Station. I see him folding the cheap faux-ruby ring he bought for his sister into my fingers and promising to return to me.
He should be able to feel the golden chain on which I wear that ring. So I hold his gaze and wait for him to notice. Instead of tightening, his fingers splay wide, investigating the fine, woven-metal threads that suspend his token between my breasts. He slides his hand down far enough to lift it, then his dark gaze meets mine, tinged with incredulity.
Cold shivers through me like an ice storm, signaling his presence. I don’t know how he stands the emotional chill all the time. These brief touches from him make me want to bundle up, and goose bumps prickle to life, further texturing my scarred arms.
I sense him brushing the memories I’ve called up. His long fingers curl around the ring, drawing me closer by virtue of tugging on the chain. I don’t try to resist, so our brows nearly kiss, just a whisper between us.
“You’re still wearing it?”
“You promised to get me something better,” I say quietly. “Remember?”
“So if I buy you some expensive jewelry, you’ll let me go?” Why does his tone sound so desperate, so haunted?
Is it possible I’m getting through to him in ways I don’t understand? I don’t know how I feel to him. I don’t know how it affects him when he touches his mind to mine. Surely my emotion must spark some kind of reaction.
I make my answer slow and deliberate. “I will never let you go. I’ll never give up on you. But you can buy me presents if you really want to.”
“You’re not afraid of me?” An icy brush, as if he seeks to test whether I’ll lie.
“A little,” I admit. “But I’m more afraid for you.”
I’ve never lied to him—and he claims that’s why he fell in love with me in the first place. I’m certainly not about to start now, when it would destroy this very nascent accord. The olive branch between us won’t bear the weight of a lie. So he can verify the honesty of that for himself. A shudder rocks through him as he does.
“If you can bear it,” he whispers finally, “I’d like to come in, stay for a while. Feel how we used to be.”
He wants to poke through my memories and feelings, see if it stimulates an echo. I can live with that, even knowing he doesn’t feel what I do. There will be no warm resonance, reinforcing his love for me. He doesn’t feel that for me anymore. I should be heartbroken; I would be if I believed it was gone forever. Or maybe I’d just square my shoulders and make him fall in love with me all over again.
A deep breath fortifies me for the imminent ordeal. From the last time we did this, I know it’ll be painful, but maybe he suffers something like mental hypothermia. Maybe I can warm him up inside by millimeters, even if it chills me to the bone.
“Are you kidding?” I manage a smile. “I want you inside me. I miss you.”
Though he doesn’t need touch to join with me, I sense it happening as he leans his forehead against mine. Maybe it’s a sign of trying to meet me halfway because I know he doesn’t like being touched anymore, not even by me. The warmth of his skin belies the blizzard within.
At first, I can’t feel anything but the barren, blasted ice. This is like walking naked across the Teresengi Basin, and it’s all I can do not to recoil from the man making me suffer this. I fight to remember why we’re doing this. Bracing myself, I wait to gain some equilibrium. It’s not all him; I should be in here somewhere, and this isn’t my emotional climate.
As if from a long distance, I feel my teeth start to chatter. Someone—probably Constance—wraps a blanket around the two of us. I don’t know if that will help, but I appreciate the gesture though I lack the wherewithal to respond. Her footsteps trail away. Apparently she’s programmed to know when to provide privacy. I appreciate that, too.
Just when I think I can’t abide any more ice spiking into my brain to be translated as pain, the atmosphere shifts. The chill tapers off, becoming more bearable. And I feel March touching what I feel for him. He’s tentative. He almost seems frightened, like my mind is a jewel box, and he’s a child afraid of touching precious things he might break.
But I don’t try to stop him.
Warmth suffuses me as he focuses on my memory of the first time we made love. First it’s filtered through my perceptions, then it spins. I see myself through his eyes as he comes down to me. I’m smiling up at him, all wild inky hair and eyes pale as moon-silvered ice. March sees me as pure beauty, distilled to its essence, nothing more needed or required. And he wants me in this captured moment—so much he aches with it. He remembers the ache.
I still feel it, even if he doesn’t.
I’ll always want him. Until every sun goes dark in every sky, until I am nothing more than long-forgotten cosmic dust, I will want him. And even then I suspect my particles will long for his.
Between us, the mood shifts, heating by infinitesimal degrees. Blindly, still lost in the memory, I seek his mouth. Will he permit a kiss?
He does. I sense a shiver rolling through him like distant thunder heralds a violent storm. His stubble scrapes the tender skin of my cheek as his lips take mine. His arms come around me, solid and sure. March pulls me across his lap, and we tangle in the blanket Constance wrapped around us. I fall against his chest, tasting the rough skin beside his mouth. It seems like forever since I’ve touched him, since he’s let me.
I don’t open my eyes. I’m afraid if I do, I’ll wake alone, my fingers stealing across a narrow bed where I dream alone.
“I want you,” he whispers, as if it’s miraculous. I tend to agree. “Not the nearest warm body, not a biological urge. You.”
I don’t care if he’s just remembering how much he wanted me. I don’t care if it’s echoed feeling instead of a spontaneous one. Anything is better than complete detachment. Mary, I want him back.
I shift a little on his lap, smiling. “I’d already figured that out.” It’s progress. I’ll take what I can get. “I’m guessing it didn’t go this way with Mair.”
I startle a laugh out of him, the first since he’s been back. “Hardly. She was a little old for me, even when I first met her.”
“Good to know I don’t need to be jealous of her,” I joke, thinking of Mair’s irritatingly gorgeous granddaughter, Keri.
“You shouldn’t be jealous of Keri, either,” he answers, just like he used to. I’d forgotten how much I loved having him answer my unspoken thoughts. “She married Lex just before I left Lachion. I gave her away.”
“Good for her,” I murmur.
Mary, such euphoric relief can’t be right. I’m not that insecure, am I? Seems I am. Because I’ve seldom been happier to hear of a wedding I didn’t attend.
We can do this. I’ll fight for him. It might not be clean or pretty or by the book, but I can be damn stubborn. I exhale slowly, nuzzling my face against his throat. To my delight, he permits it, arms still fast around my back. Then his hands slowly slide down to my hips, repositioning me on his lap.
“Did you not hear me the first time?” He bites gently on the side of my neck. “I want you.”
I offer a sweet smile. “And you’ll have me. In time.”
Good thing the drugs keep him relatively even-tempered, or I’d probably find myself facedown on the floor. I don’t kid myself that March is cured. We’ve just made a little progress, and his first impulse is still to take what he wants.
“What’re you talking about, woman?”
“It has occurred to me,” I say softly, “that your physical needs may be linked to your emotional ones. Maybe we can use your sex drive to reconnect the two.”
I don’t kid myself. This plan will run on his endurance, and his patience may not withstand the effort. I may wind up with an infuriated killing machine who doesn’t know whether he wants to take me on the floor like an animal or snap my neck. But what the hell, I feel lucky.
“So you’re going to tease me until I become the man you fell in love with again?” He fairly growls the question.
I wince. “In essence.”
“There are no words for how much I hate this idea.”
March leaves shortly thereafter.
Maybe he can only take so much; I don’t know for sure that’s what it is, but I decide not to press my luck. He actually brushes a kiss against my temple as he goes. That was purely voluntary; he didn’t have to. I don’t quite dare hope that he wanted to.
Constance glides back into the room when she’s sure that he’s gone. If she were a real female friend like Dina, she would want to talk about what just happened. Since she’s a droid, she’s more interested in deconstructing the session from earlier.
So we do.
According to her logs, things went well, but I could’ve done better. She points out all the weaknesses in my performance, making note of where I need improvement.