“Lila? Close your eyes, and don't peek, all right?”
Lila obeyed, and tracked Catherine's movements by sound, coming up the rest of the stairs and into the library, stepping carefully around the low, square table that was a recent addition, and stopping beside her. She caught the scent of Catherine's shampoo as the mage leaned closer, set something carefully on the table—with any luck avoiding Lila's most recent experiments with the origami book and paper Catherine had given her a couple of days ago. Faint noises from the direction of the table, even after Catherine moved a step away... huh?
“Can I look now?”
“Hm...” Catherine pretended to consider that, and laughed. “Yes.”
Lila opened one eye, then opened both very wide.
In front of her was a cage, a fairly elaborate one with two levels and a little ramp to the higher one.
Running around in the lower part, on the bedding, were a pair of tiny mice, one a soft misty grey with a white face, the other all-over pale wheat-gold.
“I thought they might keep you company,” Catherine said shyly, dropping her gaze as Lila looked in her direction. “They're both female, the woman at the pet store was very helpful and told me they're cleaner and usually friendlier, and they're sisters from the same litter so they shouldn't fight or anything. They're still young, they left their mother not long ago. I, um, don't think we have room for a kitten or a puppy, but the cage won't take up that much space...” She trailed off, looked up anxiously. “Do you like them?”
“Like them?” Impulsively, Lila bounded to her feet and pounced on Catherine for a hug. “They're perfect!”
Catherine froze, utterly rigid; Lila throttled her first impulse, to back quickly away, though she did make herself stop squeezing so hard. And, after a couple of rapid heartbeats, Catherine tentatively returned it.
“You can hug harder than that, I don't break,” Lila told her, careful that her tone was light and teasing. In the last few days, she'd started to realize exactly how deeply mages were conditioned against contact. Especially casual contact. It was a miracle they somehow managed to make baby mages. But, if she gave Catherine a minute, her mage usually got past it. “Sorry, I shouldn't have surprised you like that, but they're so cute!”
Catherine's arms tightened, for a moment, her entire body trembling slightly, then she let go; Lila released her and backed off, shoving deep into the back of her mind her own longing for more prolonged connection. “I guess you do like them,” she said, with a smile that was a trifle shaky around the edges. She enjoyed the contact, Lila had checked that the first time Catherine had gone all tense on her, but getting used to it was another matter. “I wasn't sure, but I thought it would mean you aren't alone. The woman at the pet store says they can become extremely tame if they're handled frequently and gently. I have lots of other things for them, too, I'll be right back.” She made a quick trip downstairs, and returned with a couple of bulging plastic shopping bags.
Lila left her mice to calm down, and explored the bags. Food, bedding, more kinds of treats than she could count, toys and houses and stuff... She must've bought half the pet store.
“She said they like to be active at night, too,” Catherine added.
“I never had a pet before. Always wanted one.” The mice were calmer, settling down now that their world wasn't moving and rocking and changing. Lila could relate. They had a dish of food already, and a water bottle attached to the side of the cage; she watched in delight as the grey one went up on her back legs to drink from it. “They're adorable!”
“I thought the corner there might be a good place.” Catherine gestured towards a space left between the end of a bookshelf and the wall. “They might feel safer if they aren't directly in the line of traffic, but they'll still be close.”
“Perfect.” Gently, trying not to alarm the mice, Lila moved the cage to the corner, and sat down in front of it to watch them, fascinated. They were so tiny, with their bright black eyes and long tails and little pink feet.
Catherine chuckled. “I'm never going to be able to hold your attention again, am I.”
“Of course you are, don't be silly. I get much less time with you than I'll have with them.” She got up and moved away, back over to the table. Catherine was examining a blue and white paper swan.
“I don't think I could do this, at least not without using magic,” Catherine said. “Other than cooking, I'm not at all good with my hands. You've only been practising for two days, and you're already very good at. I'm impressed.”
Lila shrugged. “It's easy, to me. Most sensitives I know are pretty good at hands-on stuff. This is a bit more delicate than I'm used to, but it's the same thing.” She grinned. “We're probably going to be up to our eyeballs in origami animals and stuff in a week.”
“Silly,” Catherine said affectionately. “I need to go back downstairs and start supper. Have fun with your mice, until suppertime.”
“I think I can do that.”
* * *
“Families,” Catherine growled, slumping in the chair, “suck.”
“Such language from you,” Lila teased. “They must have done something truly terrible today. Sit up straight.”
Catherine sighed, shifted position so Lila could reach to free her hair. “No more so than ever. Only the usual hints and comments and remarks from my grandmother and two of my aunts. Including one about how nice it will be when my mother is willing to join them for supper again. Which she refuses to do while I'm present.”
“Not for much longer. We're getting pretty good. You can create a fair bit of mass now, without tiring either of us out, you'll get the denser stuff eventually, and you do some really awesome glamours, and you can move a lot of weight.”
“I know. And in ways, that makes it easier. But in other ways, it makes it harder to listen and accept than it was when I had no hope at all.”
“I just did.”
“All of it, I mean. You aren't going anywhere for a few minutes anyway, and I can listen while I do this. Tell me about today.”
Uncertainly at first, Catherine heaved a sigh, and began to describe the day. Lila smiled to herself as the rational account of events became only the foundation for Catherine's reactions to them, all the frustration and disgust and pain and anger. She took even longer than usual about brushing Catherine's hair shining-smooth, and didn't start to braid it until she thought the mage was winding down.
“Yes, actually, I do feel much better.”
Lila chuckled. “Sensitive magic. Telling someone who cares while getting some personal attention.” She twisted an elastic around the end of the long braid, and circled around the chair to drop to one knee in front of Catherine. “I can do more sensitive magic and make it go away completely, if you want.” Oh god, what if she tells me no? What if she takes it the wrong way? What if... oh, shut up.
Catherine tilted her head to one side, eyebrows raised questioningly. “Oh?”
Lila smiled, rocked forward, and kissed her gently.
Catherine made a small, startled noise, and jerked back, eyes wide. “I can't!”
“I'm a mage, I haven't... I...”
Lila shrugged, and grinned. “It's everybody's first time sometime. But I'm not going to try to make you. If you choose to, the offer is there.”
Utter stillness, for what felt like forever. Lila could hear her own heart pounding. Sensitives bounced in and out of one another's beds with no commitments, no ties, and for the most part a complete disregard for inhibition and often for safety. The more she'd come to see Catherine as a person, not just a mage, the more she'd longed to share a more physical kind of pleasure with her.
Catherine ran her tongue over her lips, swallowed, and gave Lila a smile that was more than a little shaky. “I choose yes.”
Yes! She said yes!
Calm down, girl, you've gotta take this slow, or you'll spook her and wreck everything.
Lila returned the smile and moved back, tugging the other pillow into place so it was directly below Catherine. “Slide down.”
Catherine obediently slithered out of the chair to the pillow. Yes, having her on the same level would help, for the moment, although there could be possible uses for the big comfy chair later. Lila kissed her again, taking her time to savour the taste and the scent and just the delicious knowledge that Catherine trusted her. Uncertainly, Catherine tried to return it, puzzling this out, but she got the idea quickly and enthusiastically.
Time and again, Lila reigned in her own hunger, keeping the pace slow, keeping contact to hands on bodies, lips on lips. Catherine wanted to, she had no doubt of that, there was no way the shy curiosity, the pleasure even in a simple touch, was feigned.
Neither was the way Catherine's body suddenly went rigid beside her, trembling, her heart racing so hard Lila could feel her pulse hammering right through her fair skin. Immediately, Lila drew back, hoping that breaking contact would also ease Catherine's fear, but the mage made an inarticulate sound of protest and clung to her. Blue eyes closed, and Lila watched Catherine force her breathing slow and deep, felt the stiffness ease.
“Are you okay?” Lila asked softly, stroking that long hair soothingly.
Catherine nodded, but turned her face aside, and it struck Lila that she was... ashamed? “I'm sorry,” she said, almost inaudibly.
“You can't help it,” Lila said, as gently as she could. “It's all right. What can I do to help?”
“Just... be patient? I want to, I really do, I just...” The colour of her cheeks deepened, and her voice turned pleading.
Lila nodded, and leaned forward to kiss her again, lightly. “There's only us here. There's no hurry. We can play all night, or stop any time you like. There's no right or wrong, and anything we do, I'm happy with, believe me.” Delicately, she ran a fingertip slowly from the hollow of Catherine's throat, down between her small breasts, bared by the undone buttons of her sage-green dress, and continued right down to her navel, despite Catherine's quivering and catch of breath. Part of her still couldn't believe this was happening, that she had actually initiated sex with a mage, that she wanted a mage so very badly, that a mage was frightened of contact with her. No, not a mage. Catherine. Just, always, simply and wonderfully, Catherine. And that she was here with Catherine was enough all on its own to try to get her head around. “Being patient just means enjoying the moment longer. And this moment I'd love to stay in forever.”
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