8 – Reciprocation

Kate left the laptop there, since he’d said it would turn itself off, and went looking for Damon. He wasn’t at his desk, and his cup was empty; she glanced down the hall, but saw nothing. He hadn’t left the apartment, the chain-lock was still on, and she hadn’t heard or seen him go out onto the balcony. A bit worried, she called his name; getting no reply, she walked quickly to the hallway. Not in the smaller bedroom, but in the doorway of the larger, she stopped short.

Damon knelt in the middle of his big dark-wood bed, facing towards one side. He’d changed from his jeans and T-shirt to the sort of clothes shapeshifters liked, shirt and pants held together only by knots, all in black of course. He’d tied his hair into a tail at the back of his neck, not interfering with the shiny-black something wrapped in two bands, one across his eyes and the other across his mouth, and she could see the thin wire of a pair of earbuds leading to a cuff around one upper arm obviously designed for the small device at the other end of the wire, with the wire neatly gathered out of the way. His wrists and ankles were both circled by black cuffs, all four linked closely together. Bright chain ringed his neck, not choking-tight but he wouldn’t be able to pull it off, with a small lock holding it, and the other end was connected to… something on the bed that she couldn’t readily see.

There was no one else here, so this could only have been his own idea.

On the bed beside him was a sheet of paper, with a key lying on top of it.

Kate made her way over, quietly, to pick up the paper. Presumably unaware of her proximity, Damon didn’t react at all. She retreated to the doorway to read it by the hall light.

Surprise, sunshine. Read this to the end, then I’m all yours.

Rules: I have a string with bells on it in my hand, if I drop that while I’m gagged it’s the same as saying ‘red’. If I’m not gagged, then the same red, yellow, green as last night. Remember that for me, orgasm without blood is dangerous. I don’t mind at all if anything you do hurts or isn’t exactly comfortable, that can be fun, but go easy on actually trying to hurt me, okay?

From now until either you decide to let me go, or until sunrise, whichever comes first, I’ll do anything you tell me. Experiment, play, be selfish and demanding, try out parts of fantasies, whatever. Only you and I will ever know, and you CAN’T do anything wrong or anything that’ll upset me. This bed has a lot of secrets, maybe you’ll find some. There are drawers around the base, go ahead and use anything in them.

I left scissors on the headboard that can go through rope or wrap if necessary. The rolls of wrap won’t stick to anything but themselves, and they’re reusable, so they can be fun for getting creative. If you want to know about something, ASK​—​but you’ll have to make sure I can answer!!! If anything worries you, even if you think it’s silly or trivial, you can call Clea. Phone’s on the dresser and I turned off the security, just press the button, hold 2 until it dials, and she’ll answer. I promise, she won’t mind.

The headphones are only playing white noise, just enough to keep me from tracking you by sound. This key works on both locks holding the chain.

I suppose you could decide you just don’t want to. But where’s the fun in that?

Enjoy yourself, Mistress. I will.

Kate looked at the key in her hand. One small piece of metal. Immense symbolism. He’d just deliberately and decidedly placed his safety in her hands​—​offering up the same trust he’d asked of her last night. Entirely because he thought they’d both enjoy it? She doubted that, although that was sure to be part of it.

She was definitely overthinking again. Which was incredibly stupid.

She laid the paper on the dresser, and the key with it, and turned on the lamp on the table next to the bed. The blindfold and headphones were effective: she saw no reaction at all. It wasn’t a lot of light coming from behind that frosted blue shade, but at least she could see what she was doing.

She walked around the bed, considering him from all angles, amazed all over again by her good fortune that someone with that body and that mind wanted to be with her. The cuffs didn’t have buckles, which puzzled her; that would take a little figuring out. Linking all four was, well, a metal ring with four short black straps attached, each with a clasp on the end. It wasn’t impossible he could have escaped from that with some time and effort, but the chain was another matter altogether. Careful not to touch the chain, she followed it down between the mattress and the wooden frame of the bed, and found a metal ring bolted to the wood; without the chain, she thought it would have fit neatly into a round groove in the wood. As it was, the other end of the chain was locked to the ring with a second small padlock.

What should she do to let him know she was here? What would be the most fun? Him feeling her checking the drawers under the bed and wondering what she was going to do? An unexpected touch? Pondering, she shed her top and pants, leaving only panties and bra​—​extra clothing was probably going to get in the way.

And speaking of extra clothing, Damon was wearing too much, and it needed to come off as well. Which more or less answered her earlier question.

He wasn’t far from the edge of the bed, the chain wasn’t all that long, so she didn’t need to touch the bed at all in order to lean forward and place one fingertip right at the hollow of his throat. In the instant of contact, he twitched, and made a small and rather muffled sound of surprise, which trailed into a low moan as her finger ran down his chest as far as the topmost of three ties at the front of his shirt.

With stealth no longer an issue, she sat on the edge of the bed and turned so she could trace the same path with her tongue​—​and when she reached the tie, she tugged at it playfully with her teeth, in no great hurry to get the knot undone. Damon shivered, his weight shifting towards her as much as the restraints allowed, and his breathing accelerated noticeably.

Instead of the next tie down on his shirt, she moved up to his shoulder, kissing and nibbling; she licked the side of his throat, and let her breath tickle across the wet spot, before she started on the knot holding the shirt up on one side. When it finally came loose, the soft fabric fell away, baring pale skin across his upper chest and upper back and his entire arm on that side. She amused herself stroking and kissing the newly-exposed area, delighted by the small sounds and twitches.

What was he thinking right now? Unable to see or hear, unable to move much or speak, able only to wait while she did what she wanted. Half-consciously, she licked her lips, feeling an odd shiver run along her spine and down. In part it was memory of last night, the incredibly intense dimension added by Damon claiming and using every inch of power that she voluntarily surrendered but not a cat’s whisker more. Mingled with that were the images of Damon chained, mischievous speculation about how she could make him react, curiosity so broad she hardly knew where to start​—​and an odd sense of responsibility, that he was trusting her and she had to be careful not to violate that.

She moved farther onto the bed so she could examine the cuffs by sight and touch. Damon helpfully rotated one wrist to bring the end of the outer strap into her line of sight; then she understood. Velcro, though clearly not a simple design. Experimentally, she peeled back the strap, and found another layer of velcro underneath, running the opposite direction. That was clever, secure but easy to remove in a hurry. Damon tugged on that cuff in a not-very-serious attempt to get free; Kate smoothed it back into place and ran a fingernail up the bottom of one bare foot, eliciting a muffled eep and brief squirming.

She took a little time to play with the exposed skin she could reach from here. Focused completely on every sign she could see or feel or hear, she had no impression of impatience or resistance, only of enjoyment of her hands and mouth. She couldn’t resist teasing that enticing backside through the fabric, and smiled when he tried to shift his weight to encourage her. Still too many clothes, more knots to undo; she slithered off the bed. Damon made a disappointed sound, trying vainly to stay in contact.

Thoughtfully, Kate retreated a couple of steps, studying him. Because of the limitation of the chain, he wasn’t all that far from the edge of the bed. She caught hold of a handful of his shirt and pulled forward; obediently, he wriggled towards her until she let go and flattened her palm against his chest.

That put his knees only an inch or so from the edge. She stepped closer, right against the bed, and slid her left hand down his half-bared back, drawing him against her; he made a happy purring sound and nuzzled between her breasts. Curiously, she stroked a finger along the shiny black wrap across his eyes and discovered that it had a plastic kind of feel. Nothing secured the end, it simply adhered to itself.

She gave him a kind of one-armed hug, and pressed a kiss to the top of his head, getting another happy sound. Staying in contact, she dropped to one knee, kissing and nibbling her way down his chest to the middle front knot. That one gave way, then the one below it, leaving only one shoulder knot; she straightened, teasing above and below it before tugging that final knot loose with her teeth. She tossed the shirt across the footboard and paused to appreciate the view. There was a subtle kind of tension that hadn’t been there until after she’d first touched him, an alertness​—​lacking his other senses, how acutely was he focused on any information he could get with the ones remaining?

Just in case, she sat on the edge of the bed and leaned back. She ran her hand down his arm, over the cuff, to his; he opened his hands, showing her the loop of cord with brass jingle bells threaded on it, nestled into his palm; even that much motion made them chime softly. He curled his fingers back around the bells, unhurried but firm. The meaning seemed clear enough: he had a way to tell her if anything was wrong, but didn’t feel any need to use it.

So, what could she do with him?

She slid off the bed to the floor, looking for the drawers he’d mentioned. Without knowing they were there, she could easily have overlooked them. She hooked her fingers into the recessed handle at the top of the nearest and pulled it open.

Each drawer’s contents only fascinated her more. There was a whole treasure trove of potential adventure, far more than she could explore in a single night.

Damon waited, head bowed, but his position shifted subtly towards her each time she moved, maybe tracking by vibration?

So what about the bed itself?

The smoothly rounded corner posts were surprisingly thick, she couldn’t even get her hands entirely around one at the floor, though they narrowed gradually above that. Three pairs of bronze bands circled the dark wood of each post: just above the mattress, near the top, and halfway between. She examined the pair closest to her; on the inside, facing towards the centre of the bed, a sturdy bronze ring was bolted between the bands, resting in a shallow channel carved into the wood into which it fit precisely. She climbed up, steadying herself on the post, to check the top pair​—​matching ring.

She heard a muffled sound she thought was a laugh. Damon must have guessed from her weight on the bed that she’d found the rings.

Thoughtfully, Kate went back to find something she’d seen in one of the drawers. Ah, there it was: a two-foot bar of wood, the centre part of it wrapped thickly with dark hockey tape. Two short heavy chains were bolted to the ends, the longer part of the chains joined by an oval quicklink, the shorter part dangling individually only an inch or so and each terminating in a heavy snap. She climbed back up and fastened the quicklink to the top ring of the nearest post, at the foot of the bed. The bar hung level, the snaps below.

She considered removing the headphones so she could simply tell him what she wanted, but somehow, they seemed to be communicating anyway.

She reached behind him to undo the snaps of the four-way chain. He made no move to get up, though he did stretch his arms in front of him and roll his shoulders before laying his hands across his lap. Kate retrieved the key and unlocked the chain from around his neck, leaving the key and lock on the pillow near the chain. She reached down to take both his hands in hers and draw him forward; without hesitation, he followed, let her guide and support him to his feet and over to the post.

As soon as he felt the post behind him, he adjusted so his back was squarely against it. He reached up with both hands, found the upper pair of bronze bands, then the ring, then followed the chains down to the bar. Helpfully, he took hold of the bar, near the ends, so she could fasten the snaps in place. She tugged at the bar, just to make sure it was secure, then checked the snaps again​—​she didn’t want any chance of accidents.

Damon tested the cuffs, then very deliberately allowed quite a lot of his weight to come down against the whole set-up. It held without any sign of strain at all​—​presumably exactly what it had been designed to do. He caught hold of the bar again and regained his balance, spread his feet, and leaned back against the post.

What was Damon thinking right now? Body language suggested pleasure and patience and amusement. Oddly, despite the lightweight fabric, she could still see no sign of erection. She ran a hand inquisitively over his groin, and blinked: instead of warm living flesh, she felt only a smooth firm curve. She was certain the sound Damon made as she grabbed for the knot at the front of his pants was laughter, though it changed briefly to a happy purr when she reached around him for the knot at the back. There was something running along the crack of his ass, from a belt around his waist down and forward between his legs. When the back knot came loose, the soft fabric fell away altogether.

The quivering she could feel in Damon had to be half-suppressed laughter.

The belt and the strap were sturdy leather. The belt supported thick stiff leather with softer leather lining at least the edges, maybe the inside as well, held tightly by a strap that ran up the back. The belt wrapped around from behind in either direction and overlapped in the centre, a slit on the each arm fitting over a small metal loop, with another of those little padlocks making sure that they couldn’t come off. A second lock secured the strap up the back. That certainly explained not getting hard!

Since the locks looked the same as the ones that had held the chain around his neck, it was very likely the same key would work.

Snapped to the front padlock was what looked like a small remote control, some kind of light-coloured plastic, nothing but an indicator light and a single button. She turned it over in her hand, looking for some clue as to what it was for, but there was no way to tell.

Interestingly, there was a hint of increased tension in Damon, though it didn’t seem like apprehension.

She pushed the button and the light came on; instantly, he yelped and wriggled. She explored the chastity belt by touch, and couldn’t help laughing when she felt vibration when her fingers were directly over his anus. Wondering what would happen, she pressed the button again, and gained another muffled noise so it must have changed something​—​besides, the light stayed on​—​but when she leaned down to lick one of his nipples, the noise trailed into a happy moan. She backed up a step; Damon tried to stay close, but jerked up short against the restraints.

In one of the drawers, she was certain she’d seen gloves, the same as the ones in the photos or their twins, and she was definitely curious about what reactions they could get.

She located the right drawer, and took out the gloves, one by one: silky rabbit fur, soft smooth leather, stretchy latex, leather with inner palm and fingers covered with rough prickly fiber, rubber with an inner surface of irregular nubs, a black leather one with palm and fingers covered by tiny metal points. She left the flat wooden paddles and the short multi-tailed whips, but she took out a feathery thing too, before she closed the drawer.

How long had he been tied? How long had he been here waiting for her to find him?

Something about this communication without words or visual signals was fascinating, and she hoped Damon would be inclined to help explore it further, but for right now, she needed to be able to ask direct questions. She unplugged the headphones from that surprisingly small device on his arm, and carefully removed them.

“Are you okay?” she asked, one hand on his chest.

With no hesitation, he nodded.

“Is there anything you need right now?”

He shook his head.

“Do you need, or want, me to take off the gag?” Shake. “Or the blindfold?” Shake. “So I can use all these fun toys to abuse you still?” He nodded enthusiastically; Kate laughed and kissed him, right in front of one ear. “Hedonist.” He considered that briefly, then nodded vigorously again.

So, she experimented. She learned quickly that it didn’t take any force, even light touches got responses, and that responses could vary not only with different gloves but with where she touched and whether it was only a fingertip or her whole hand, a still touch or a stroking caress. Mixing sensations was unquestionably the most fun, she discovered: combining ‘good’ with ‘bad’, or ‘bad’ with the vibrator remote. Mixed sensations made him squirm and struggle the most, made his heart and breathing both speed up, got her the loudest and most interesting noises, and he couldn’t seem to decide whether to move into or away from what she was doing.

She did pause to check with him a couple of times, and both times he nodded promptly that he was fine; the third time, he hesitated. Not urgent, since he hadn’t used the bells, but clearly that needed to be enough of that. She was having too much fun to release him entirely yet, however.

She retrieved the chain that had been around his neck, released one wrist to bring it to the other, and locked both wrists to the end of the chain. The other end she locked to the middle ring of the post, then she freed his other wrist from the bar and helped him sit on the edge of the bed.

Gently, she unwrapped the blindfold, her warning about the light probably unnecessary; he kept his eyes closed until she was finished, and blinked slowly until he adjusted. There was mischief in his eyes when they met hers. Kate smiled, kissed his forehead, and started on the gag.

“Stay still,” she told him firmly, once she had it off completely. “I’ll get you a drink.”

“Of course, Mistress.” He flashed her a quick smile, and set the bells on the bed, flexing his hand.

In the kitchen, she filled a glass with water from the fridge, added a straw, and returned.

Damon wrapped both hands around the glass and sipped slowly at it; Kate sat beside him and hugged him with one arm, and he leaned against her.

“Are you okay?” she repeated, brushing escaping sweat-damp black hair out of his eyes.

“Absolutely, Mistress. What else can I do to please you?”

She tapped the leather chastity belt. “What’s with this?”

Damon turned enough to blink at her with wide innocent eyes. “It wouldn’t be right for an accident or a moment of insufficient control to interfere with anything you might wish, Mistress.” He took another sip of water and added thoughtfully, “Although enthusiastic use of the vibrator controls can definitely push the limits of that.”

Kate picked up the key and, one-handed, unlocked the padlock at the back of the belt, removed it, and freed the strap; Damon’s breath caught as the tension released. She did the front lock as well, and moved the entire belt out of the way, to the far side of the bed. Damon sighed in pleasure as she stroked his penis​—​now rapidly hardening​—​with light fingertips.

“Had enough water?”

“Yes, Mistress.” He held out the glass so she could move it to the table beside the bed. Once she had, she unlocked the ring end of the chain.

“Get up on the bed properly.”

“In what position, Mistress?”

“Lying down on your back.”

Not hampered much by his wrists being linked together, Damon obediently swung his legs up onto the bed and rearranged himself as directed. Kate followed and ran a hand along the lower part of the headboard, where it was covered by the mattress.

“Mistress? There’s a ring in the centre,” Damon said meekly. “There’s a snap attached to it but the ring is solid.”

Kate found it, threaded the chain through it, and locked it so he had only a couple of inches of play. Damon tugged at it, then looked up at her. “I’m at your mercy, Mistress.”

“Good.” Kate reached behind her to unclasp her bra, shimmied her panties down, and knelt between his legs. The vibrator remote was in reach; she scooped it up and kept it in her left hand while she leaned down to flick her tongue delicately over the tip of his penis, tasting the drops there. Damon’s breath caught in his throat, and he shivered.

“You need to tell me if you get anywhere near,” she said sternly.

“Yes, Mistress.” It trailed into a hiss as she ran her tongue along the bottom of his shaft; his hips bucked forward with a low moan as she closed her mouth over the head and clicked the vibrator back on at the same time.

She let him slide out of her mouth and rocked forward to kiss him on the lips. “Don’t you wreck my fun too fast,” she told him severely.

Damon squirmed. “Um… will try, Mistress.” He didn’t sound very confident.

He did try, even though Kate did her best to find the right combination of hand and mouth and vibrator to drive him crazy. He had to warn her more than once to ease up, and she used those moments to explore the rest of him, enjoying the taste and feel and sight of his skin.

Her own body was growing more and more insistent, however. She finally moved forward so she could straddle his hips. As extremely wet and aroused as she was, she had no trouble settling herself on and around him, steadying him with one hand. Damon moaned, eyes closed, and arched towards her. There really wasn’t any need for him to tell her how close he was to losing it completely after so much stimulation so long​—​she could feel it in the trembling of his body, the tension of trying to obey her, and he was biting his lower lip hard, narrow blood-teeth visible though not entirely extended.

Kate groped for the key and leaned forward to undo the lock holding Damon’s wrists together, then dropped key, lock, and chain and braced herself on both hands while she kissed him fiercely. Even as he responded eagerly, he made a questioning sound.

“I’m out of patience and about to scream,” she said, and straightened enough that she could rock her hips back and forth, internal muscles clenching tightly around him with no real thought on her part. All her attention had been on what she was doing and how Damon had been reacting, but she was just too aroused to ignore it any longer.

Damon laughed breathlessly. “You’re out of patience? Took you long enough.” With one hand on her hip, he reached up with the other to run a fingertip teasingly from the hollow of her throat down between her breasts to pause and circle her belly-button. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive any length of time with you, sunshine, but it’ll be oh so worth it.” That wandering finger went lower, down to seek out her clit and tickle it gently. Kate whimpered and her muscles tightened involuntarily, which made Damon moan. He shifted his hand, his palm pressed against and cupping her mound while his thumb teased her clit lightly in time with her own motion; he remembered enough from last night, and she was so turned on, that she didn’t think it would take much to make her climax.

Damon caught her left hand in his, turned it so he could kiss the underside of her wrist. That was warning enough before he shuddered under her and thrust upwards, needle-sharp teeth striking deep through the thin skin; it hurt enough to make her breath catch, but it didn’t matter, it was so tangled with pleasure that it was only one more flavour. As his aftershocks faded, Kate let herself rest, and expected Damon to stop, but he didn’t; she’d have had trouble getting her left hand free, if she’d for some reason wanted to, and his right hand remained on her mound, his thumb rubbing along the edge of her clit. So very close, she wasn’t sure she could bear any interruption right now. Only half thinking, she dropped her own right hand to her groin, finding the exact place and pressure she needed…

Pure wonderful sensation crested, centred around her clit, the white top of an ocean wave, and splashed outwards along every nerve, every muscle, that contracted in a single spasm of pleasure. She couldn’t even cry out, her voice stopped in her throat.

Damon let go of her left hand and caught her as all those muscles released, brought her down and wrapped both arms tightly around her. She could feel his heart still, pounding hard and rapid, his breathing still fast; she cuddled close, her head resting on his shoulder. Damon kissed her forehead and held her there, stroking her hair and upper back gently; it felt oddly like the only solid anchor, reassuring beyond reason.

“I’m shaking!” she said suddenly, surprised.

“Shh. You’re okay. Just relax. Stay with me, sunshine, and talk to me. You are wonderfully wicked, you know that?”

“I… you’re okay? You’re sure?” That wasn’t exactly what she wanted to ask but it was the best she could manage to get words around right now.

“I’m more than okay. You got to experiment, I got to feel really really good. I think I came out ahead on that one. You didn’t hurt me. You didn’t do anything I wasn’t more than happy to have done.” His tone turned affectionate, gently teasing. “Did you have fun? Me being tied up seems to get you all hot and bothered somehow.”

“Fun isn’t quite the right word for that. Intense, maybe. Unexpected. Fascinating. A little frightening.”

“Shift sideways please, love? Unexpected how?”

Kate let herself more or less roll to one side, but stayed in contact, reluctant to be any farther. “I’ve tended to fantasize mostly about having stuff done to me. I don’t think there are more than a handful of stories I’ve written that…” She bit her lip, realizing what slipped out while she watched Damon fish a couple of small towels out of a drawer in the bedside table.

He handed her one towel. “Stories you’ve written?” he asked with interest.

Well, if Damon couldn’t understand, she was pretty sure no one would ever be able to. “At my parents’ house, there’s a couple of boxes of, well, daydreams turned into stories. Not all exactly about sex, but there are generally at least subtle domination themes. Usually not so subtle.”

“Can I see them?”

“The writing is embarrassing, especially the earlier ones. And I did my best with whatever info I could gather or extrapolate, but I’m certain there are some really embarrassing errors in them.”

“Then,” Damon said, squirming briefly, laying a small light-coloured vibrator with interesting curves on the other towel, and setting it on the table, “you should tell me and we’ll do research. Although the point isn’t writing style or technical accuracy, it’s what goes on in that beautiful head. Usually submissive stories, hm? And you weren’t prepared to find yourself enjoying making me whimper just for itself, not for research value?”

Kate paused in wiping herself more or less clean, reflecting on exactly how she’d felt when she’d found out what the remote control was for, the sheer delight and sense of power when, with the fur glove and the metal-points one, she’d made Damon moan and arch his back and jerk hard against the cuffs. “That’s about it,” she conceded, giving herself one more swipe with the towel before passing it to him to do the same.

“Does it bother you? That you can enjoy both sides?”

“Not exactly. It’s just going to take a little mental adjusting.”

“Don’t put too much emphasis on labels. They’re about as accurate as hetero and bi and homo, or male and female. Everyone’s different, lots of shadings between and variations.” He dropped the towel on the floor and held out both hands, the cuffs still around his wrists. “Please, Mistress? Then I’ll go get us something to drink.”

Kate unfastened the wrist cuffs, then sat up to do the ankle cuffs. “Don’t be long.”

“No time at all.” He kissed her and slithered off the bed.

Kate used the time for a brief visit to the bathroom and to clear off the bed somewhat​—​gloves and feathery thing, cuffs and chains and locks, the hanging bar, all back in their places, and she began to re-roll one of the lengths of plastic tape.

Damon came back first with two cups and the pitcher of grape juice, then with two plates, a bowl inverted over each. He left it all on the dresser to help her finish​—​the leather chastity belt apparently lived in the bottom drawer of his dresser, and he cleaned the vibrator and left it in the bathroom to dry.

“Get comfy,” he told Kate.

They arranged themselves with Damon leaning against the headboard and Kate leaning against his shoulder, the plate he’d handed her balanced on her raised knees. Sliced hard-boiled egg, cold meat, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and green grapes surrounded wedges of flatbread with some kind of pale spread. His own, balanced on the bedside table, was similar, but the majority of the fruit and vegetables had been replaced by more meat and egg. There was no way he had time for all that, he had to have prepared it earlier.

Curiously, Kate sniffed the flatbread, and gave Damon a questioning look.

“My little sister’s mostly-Brightside omnivore version of the Riverwood tenebran equivalent of peanut butter.”

“You have a sister?”

“Two of them, one older, one younger. It won’t bite you. Try it.”

Tentatively, Kate nibbled at it. The spread was savoury and rich​—​not nauseatingly so, but pleasant. “Mm, that’s good.”

“One grain, one root, half a dozen leafy things. It’s crazy high in iron, by the way.” He took a swallow of juice, and picked up a slice of egg to nibble. “So… intense, unexpected, fascinating, frightening, right?”

“Mmhmm. All sort of tangled together. It never occurred to me that it could be possible to communicate that well, when you couldn’t see or hear or talk. It’s a bit hard to believe that you trust me enough to leave yourself deliberately that vulnerable.”

“You have,” Damon said softly. “Days ago, when you knew even less about me.”

“I knew I was safe with you.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Right back at you, silly girl. What else?”

“Knowing intellectually that something can be extremely intimate and intense isn’t quite the same as experiencing it. It scares me a bit how much I trust you and how much I keep finding myself telling you that I just never talk to anyone about.” She bit a tomato in half and watched a line of red juice escape down her arm, past the two tiny red wounds that were already closing; she swallowed and licked it off. “And it’s scary how much I think I’m falling in love with you, and how empty it would feel to go back to being alone.” She fixed her gaze on the remaining tomato, praying the confession wouldn’t cause what she least wanted.

Damon set his cup down and hugged her. “You’re not going anywhere, my love, even if the only way I can make sure of that is to get Magda and Clea to help me keep you chained up all the time, purely for your own good.” He lowered his head to kiss her forehead, then rested his cheek against the top of her head. “I’m only halfway joking about that. I wouldn’t keep you by force, not really, but I’d go to great lengths to make you want to stay with me.”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” She moved the plate aside and snuggled against him, not sure why it was so intensely reassuring, but not currently inclined to question too much.

Damon murmured something, presumably in Ashdryn, then began to sing softly, the song flowing back and forth between languages, in and out of English. The parts she could understand were a love song, and she closed her eyes, listening contently.

“Magda told me, way back the night we met, that with your hands and your voice, I was crazy not to pounce on you,” she said when he finished.

He laughed. “And how would she know about my hands, hm? So were you going to?”

“It was extremely tempting. But I thought I’d be leaving soon. And I figured you could find someone way better looking.”

“I think you’re beautiful. And I’m glad I decided to ask and that you decided to say yes. Eat, please. That’s one thing you’ll have to live with me nagging you about.”

“Considering that you keep feeding me and it’s always good, it’s not going to take much encouragement.” She retrieved the plate and resumed nibbling. Everything else in both worlds felt very far away and completely irrelevant, like reality ended beyond this room.

With the food done, along with most of the grape juice, they made final visits to the bathroom and settled into bed. Kate lay sprawled on her stomach, Damon on his side so close their legs were entangled; his hand stroked her back in lazy random patterns, which felt unreasonably good.

In the dark, with any defences between them gone, they talked​—​about anything, everything, nothing.

Kate wasn’t sure which fell asleep first, but the other wasn’t far behind.

Continued in Brightside 9, in which Damon starts to get serious about collecting the data he needs in the pursuit of his new hobby, and makes very sure Kate does not get bored.

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