Saturday, January 11, 2014

Insert Unhappy Anniversary Here

Adrian was most at peace, when he slept.

Before the war, it had been so rare to catch him sleeping – properly sleeping at least. Oh he'd doze, and rest with his eyes closed. Or if she gave him an ear rub, he'd settle into a sleepy state, in which he became very affectionate and silly too. But whenever he slept, he was plagued by nightmares, and emotional scars that would never let him rest properly.

Now, she would just lie there next to him, just watching his face relax. That peaceful expression only ever crossed his face when he slept, or when she gave him ear rubs. His worries and fears could not touch him when he slept. And if nightmares came close, Tash had always promised that she would be there to help chase them away, with a cuddle and a soft whisper in his ear.

She loved watching him sleep. It was the most calming sight in the world. If they happened to be cuddling tightly together, completely naked, then so much the better. She loved being held by him. Even in sleep, there was something powerful beneath his relaxation that held her tight and kept her safe.

When they weren't cuddling, he usually lay on his side, covers drawn up to his chest. She'd push them away gently sometimes, and trace one finger over the muscle that lay there. She had never understood at first why he always slept with his back facing away from her...then she had seen the scars, and understood why. He hated them and she hated thinking of him going through that kind of pain. She used to trace them too sometimes, kiss at them, as though doing so would make them vanish. At the very least, it might help banish the terrible memories that accompanied them.

There were no scars now. Since Adrian had come back from the dead, his body had been completely repaired. She found it slightly ironic. He had lost all his scars in that time, and she had gained more than ever.

She traced her hand lower over his stomach, giggling as he purred deep in his throat. His ears twitched back and forth eagerly, and she swore she heard a moan escape his lips. He was such a kitty, always looking for an ear scratch, or a belly rub...or sometimes both. He looked happy as his unconscious pleas were rewarded with a little tickle. His tail snuck out from behind him and flicked curiously back and forth. She wound it once around her wrist, to assure him that she was still there, as she should be.

Nightmares rarely struck him since his return. He didn't speak much about his time in death, but she got the impression that he had found a way to come to terms with at least some of the things he had had to do in his long life. Now that she had served a tenure as Librarian, and got to know some of the Counter Guardians a bit better, she understood some of his pain... at least, she hoped she understood.

She hoped she made a difference to him - that she could chase away his nightmares and fears, even if just a little bit, the same way he did hers. But even though she wished it, she knew full well that her place in his life may be completely insignificant. He had lived for centuries. She had been in his life for two years. What difference could such a short space of time make? What difference could someone like her make to someone like him?

She shook her head and let her eyes wander over him again. Trailing her hand any lower was to risk waking him (however tempting the wicked thoughts in her head were), so she returned it to cup his face, and trace one finger underneath his left eye. She knew the power his gaze had over her. It could make her light headed in seconds.

It was not something she liked to remember, but Tash couldn't help thinking about the last year, spent mostly on her own. She had missed him so badly that it had sometimes felt like she would never get over it. No...that was wrong, she corrected herself, she knew she would never have got over it. There was no variant in that fact. She had tried her best to be strong, but Death had been right - her strength had been a face that had no substance.

When Valerie had told her that there was a way to bring him back, she almost had not believed it. She was glad Michael had been there to ask the sensible questions. She hadn't been able to do anything but listen. The whole process of bringing him back had felt like a dream, and she had to pinch herself regularly to assure herself that there would be no waking up. It was real. It was happening. She was going to see him again.

It hadn't been easy for him. She knew that. Nine months was a long time not to see the people you love grow. And they had all grown. His death had forced even the most childish of them to grow up. But still, she had smiled more since he had come back than she had done in her entire life, and she was determined to make sure he was just as happy and comfortable with everything.

One of his ears twitched suddenly, and she reached up to rub it. He moaned and rolled over a little more, the muscles in his face relaxing further at her ministrations. A curious hand pawed at her side, before pulling her close and nuzzling her neck. She giggled again. He was such an active sleeper.

She liked sleeping like this - cuddled up to him, close enough to feel his heart beating steadily in his chest. She remembered when she had first told him that she loved him, and how he had protested that he was not human. Since then she had always made a point to listen to his heartbeat whenever she had the chance, just as a silent reminder that he was not the monster he sometimes feared himself to be. The sound of it seemed to soothe her own restless pulse, which helped too. And she rarely had her own nightmares when she could hear that sound.

Yawning, she closed her eyes, and silently wondered what he was dreaming of. It was selfish of her, but she hoped she was in his dreams. He was certainly in hers, just as she planned on keeping him for the rest of her life.


Bevelle was a colourful citadel, a pinkish red stone with gold and blue borders and shapes painted here and there. Everything was grand, towering toward the deep blue sky as though able to touch it. As the centre of the Yevon faith, it had been built to be magnificent, and it had exceeded all expectations.

Ever since Sin's destruction one year ago, people who followed Yevon had been quieter and more subdued. Bevelle especially, had had its entire system of belief and everyday life shattered by the deception of their leaders. Yet despite this, many faithful still remained. It was the only way of life they had ever known, and so the beliefs and teachings of Yu Yevon lived on, in spite of their shame and the population's desperate need for new leadership.

Still, inevitably, life ploughed on as it always had done. More so since Sin's defeat. Now was a time for all of Spira to rebuild and restart properly, safe in the knowledge that their work would survive this time, and that their lives were now safe.

The people in Bevelle that evening minded their own business, and so the sight of a couple, walking hand in hand did not draw any attention – even if one of the pair had white kitty ears. Smiling at each other, the couple walked down the Highbridge. Final Fantasy X had been Tash's choice of venue for the date, and Adrian had been the one to suggest Macalania woods. Tash wore a knee high black dress, and kept having to brush her hair out of her face, as they walked. Adrian wore a pristine white trenchcoat, along with black trousers, and ruby cufflinks, which glittered against his wrists. He also carried a picnic basket in his free hand, sending it worried glances occasionally.

"You keep staring at that thing as though you expect it to blow up," Tash rolled her eyes, flexing her fingertips to stop them from going cold - there was an evening breeze on the Highbridge, and she was starting to get uncomfortable. The Librarian squeezed her hand.

"I've got one half of the basket spelled so that it stays chilled... for the strawberries," he added, seeing Tash's confused look. "And the other half is heated, to keep the sandwiches warm. I'm worried that they might get a bit... volatile, in such close proximity."

Eyebrows now somewhere in the region of her hairline, Tash shrugged. "Eh... if we blow up half of Macalania wood, I'm sure the author can write it back in."


Deep in the Library Arcanium, a small chunk of the Fourth Wall snapped off and fell to the floor with a crash, sending an earthquake all around the building.


Ears twitching in annoyance, Adrian swatted the basket at Tash, who dodged it and pulled a face.

"Too slow, Librarian."

A challenging glint entered Adrian's eyes, and he dropped the basket, and made a grab for his girlfriend. Shrieking, Tash flashstepped backwards, sending a surprised group of Yevon priests scattering, one of them tumbling off the bridge with a loud splash.

"Sorry!" Tash shouted, still giggling. The remaining priests shot her filthy looks, and she turned to see Adrian stalking towards her.

"No flashstep, that's cheating!"

"You're just jealous you can't catch me!" sticking her tongue out at her boyfriend, the leader raced off down the bridge. Tail erect in excitement, Adrian ran after her, ignoring the group of girls off to the side of the bridge, who were giggling madly at the scene.

Even though she had longer legs, Tash knew in a normal race, Adrian would probably beat her. Giving in, she flashstepped the next few metres, not noticing the man straight in front of her. She crashed straight into him and stumbled to her hands and knees.

"Owie..." she winced, shaking pain from her wrist, and finding an unfamiliar hand offered to her. The arm to which it was attached vanished back into a light blue cloak... odd clothing for people in Bevelle. Priest robes were more common.

"May I assist you, dear lady?" the man asked. Shrugging, Tash took the hand, but let go almost immediately - the man's skin felt like ice!

"How long have you been standing on this bridge? You're freezing!" she spluttered, picking herself up, and rubbing the circulation back into her hands. When that failed to warm them any faster, she channelled some of her magic into her fingertips, and instantly felt the heat return.

"Graceful, Wildflower," Adrian's voice appeared from behind her, and she turned to see her boyfriend, picnic basket in hand, a winning smile on his face.

"Shut up, Kitty," she muttered, now blushing hard. She dusted her dress off, and turned back to the man. He was staring at her hard, and she hastily took a few steps back. His gaze was unnerving, not in the least because his eyes were black.

"Thanks for the help," she said slowly, before hurrying off to Adrian's side, and continuing the walk down the bridge.

"You okay?" Adrian asked, seeing her smile vanish.

"Yeah... just my butt and my pride hurt," Tash admitted. Adrian slid his hand into hers, and she instantly felt warm again.

"Well, since you lost," Adrian's grin was wicked now. "You have to provide dessert."

Tash blinked in mock innocence. "But I thought you said you brought strawberries?"

Now Adrian's hand was sliding around her waist, pulling her close to him. "I did. But you know I have a very big appetite..."


"Happy anniversary."

The clink of the glasses echoed around the clearing. The picnic blanket was spread beside the pond, sparkling, spiky dark trees rising up as though trying to touch the night's sky. The forest seemed to sing, from the glittering crystal orbs that nestled between branches, like a million ringing bells.

"Much better than our last one," Tash admitted. Adrian tilted his head to the side, kitty ears twitching.

"...what happened on our last one?"

"You were dead."

"Oh..." now his ears flattened against his head. "Kitty sorry?"

She had given in at the first sight of those ears, moving so expressively, but Tash couldn't resist teasing. "You have to make it up to me...missing our year anniversary is pretty big."

Adrian thought for a moment, and then gave a devious smirk. Tash immediately opened her mouth.

"Whatever you're thinking, the answer is probably no," she warned him, relenting as she saw his face fall. "And besides, I was teasing. I'm just glad you're alive to see our two year anniversary."

Mock frowning, Adrian threw a strawberry at her. She caught it and bit into it. Predictably, her boyfriend swooped in and began kissing the juice off her lips. As their lips met properly for a kiss, Tash mewled, savouring a taste she had missed for nine months, a taste that nothing else could compare to.

One hand threaded into his hair as his weight pushed them over onto her back and she drank in the feeling of his body pressed against her, of his warmth that made her feel so safe. Her other hand wrapped around his waist while her legs threaded together with his, his tail twining around her thigh. The blonde held him tighter to her, kissing him deeper, not wanting the moment to end, wanting them to be together, to be one and never let go.

Mouths parted slightly and tongues teased one another, prompting a set of combined moans from them and Tash could hear- no, feel- a quiet purr build up in her other half. The hand in his hair slid across his head, finding a kitty ear and trailing fingers up the edges, rubbing the tip together between thumb and forefinger and the feel of the purr sharpened. For her part, she shivered as he cupped her cheek, his other hand slowly pulling up her dress and stroking her leg.

She drew that leg up, nibbling on his tongue and groaning as his claws teased down the length of her inner thigh, dangerously close to the sexy underwear she had put on for him. For nine months, she had never even considered putting on something like it and now she had, just for him... she had wanted to shed her dress, dance for him, feel his eyes on her. But now... all she wanted was for him to rip them off and take her... to spread the feeling of their kiss all over her body, to love him, to be part of him...

Their moans intensified and she kissed him harder, hotter, trying to let him feel how much she loved him and missed and how much she wanted him and how much he meant to her...

"Get your hands off of her!"

The heat evaporated, along with Adrian's body, as the Librarian was wrenched upward by the back of his trenchcoat, and thrown clean over Tash's head, into the pond behind them. The stunned leader bolted upright, just in time to see a sheet of thick ice spreading along the water's surface, trapping her lover in the cold below.


"He won't be bothering us anymore..."

Shaking, Tash yanked Nephthys from around her neck, but the attack she was expecting never came. As the sword appeared in her grasp, and she stumbled to her feet, her attacker merely smiled, icy blue cloak fluttering in the breeze.

"Who in the name of the Gods are you?" Tash shrieked, taking a few hasty steps back, as she realised just how close the man was to her. She felt the cold seep through her shoes, and realised that she had backed onto the ice.

Her unwanted guest continued to smile, his black eyes running over her as she backed away slowly across the ice. His hood was down now, revealing white hair, which glittered as though snowflakes rested on it. His skin was pale, but with his fine, almost angelic features, it did not look out of place. Beneath the outer layer of clothes, it was just possible to make out a white button up shirt, and trousers in the same shade of blue as his cloak. Politely, he bowed his head to Tash.

"That depends, Phoenix," he began. "That monster beneath the lake would call me a Stu... others call me Purity."

The name seemed to slot neatly into a mental file in Tash's head. She had never seen him herself but she had read the mission report from the rescue all those months ago.

"You're a Sovereign!"

He tilted his head, locks of white hair falling neatly into his eyes. "You can call me whatever you like."

There was something very odd about the way he said that, but Tash couldn't put her finger on it. Instead she sneered. "Not very pure of you, throwing an innocent man into a pond!"

"Ah but you are mistaken, my dear Phoenix," now Purity's face twisted into a glare, and he jabbed an accusing finger at spot where Adrian had vanished beneath the water. "That man was a wicked soul, forcing himself upon an innocent creature like you. I can see it all...all the sins that tarnish him. That is one of my gifts. I know every indecent thing that damages a person's soul, just by touching them."

As if to illustrate, he held up a hand, which seemed paler against the moonlight, and stepped forward, reaching to stroke her cheek. Heart racing, Tash leaped backwards across the ice shivering.

"You can feel every horrible thing on a person's soul just by touching them? No wonder you're so cold..."

Purity's face seemed to light up with joy. "Not when you're around. Normally I am like ice... pure, untouched ice. But when you touched me earlier I felt fire blaze through me! It filled me with such joy... such feelings! Its like the best rush in the entire world."

For all the talk of warmth, Tash had never felt colder. She squeezed Nephthy's handle tighter. Her fingers were tingling as though in a bucket of ice, and yet her palms were sweating. She tried not to show her fear, but her eyes kept falling on Purity's hands, now clasped in front of him. If he could sense things just by touch, what had he learned about her just by taking her hand earlier on the Highbridge?

"You're shaking, Phoenix," Purity was worried, and stepped forward, and it took every ounce of willpower Tash had to remain rooted to her spot, gripping her sword tightly behind her back. "You doubt my sincerity?"

"No," Tash finally found her voice. "I just think you're fucking nuts! You interrupt our anniversary and throw my boyfriend in the pond just for a bit of heat? Go stand by a radiator!"

"You don't understand!" Purity's crisp voice shook with emotion. "At first I thought it was heat too. Then I thought of all the things I saw about you. All that you have been through. All that has made you who you are. I looked at you again and realised how wonderful you were... how beautiful..."

"Beauti... oh Gods help me. He's flirting with me!" Another icy sliver of dread slipped into Tash's heart, which began pounding an irregular tempo in her tight chest. She knew a panic attack was imminent if she didn't do something soon.

"I'm not beautiful!" she eventually snapped. "And I still think you're crazy!"

The Sovereign shrugged. "Crazy for you, maybe."

"Shut up!" Tash resisted the urge to cover her ears, and chose to stamp her foot against the ice instead. "You don't like me! You're just crazy, and the only person crazier than you is Runoa for creating you in the first place!"

"You could come with me."

Rant interrupted, the leader's eyes went wide. "What?"

"Come with me, Phoenix," Purity's voice was steady and persuasive. "It's only the Librarian Runoa hates. Not you. You could stay by my side and become a Sovereign...Runoa needs a replacement for Death..."

"I'd rather die than become a Sue," Tash said bluntly.

"I know," Purity nodded. "But would it really be so different to now? You're almost a Sue're beautiful, talented, a master with your weaponry, tragic past..."

"Shut up." This time the leader's voice was soft. Still it didn't disguise the fear.

"You know I'm right," he continued, stepping so that they were barely an arms length away. "We belong together. You can stay with me, and keep me warm forever. I'll keep you safe in return. You'll never have to fear anything in the world again. And you need not be ashamed of allowing a man to force himself upon you."

"Adrian never forced himself upon me!" Tash snapped. "I love him!"

The Sovereign's gaze didn't falter. "I wasn't talking about him."


Purity reeled backwards across the ice, and Tash squeezed her fist tighter, her knuckles aching from the impact, her nails cutting deep into her palms. As the Sovereign stood upright again, blood trickled slowly from his nose onto his pale, flawless skin. Suddenly all tenderness was gone from his angelic face, and for the first time, he looked angry.

"I see that man has corrupted your gentleness..." he hissed. "You have a wicked streak that must be purged!"

Before he could advance, the ground behind Tash fractured with an ominous crack, and for the first time, the leader relaxed.

"What have you done?" Purity roared, as more cracks appeared along the ice.

"You were so busy trying to chat me up, you didn't notice I had my sword stuck in the ground behind me," Tash replied, calmly stepping aside to reveal Nephthys, blade planted in the ground, ice splitting apart from the melted puddles that had formed from the fiery hot metal. A large chunk broke away, and the sounds of frantic splashing and gasping appeared, as Adrian surfaced.

Purity vanished, but Tash was quick enough to see him attack from the side, hand outstretched to grab her arm. Wrenching Nephthys from the ground she blocked his hand with the flat of the blade, the smell of burning flesh permeating the air. Purity did not seem affected by the scorching blade burning at his palms, and to Tash's horror, the spreading raw redness seemed to vanish back to fair white almost instantly.

"Jurai-Ken – Doryuto!" She kicked upwards, sending the blade toward his throat. He bent backwards out of the way, and kicked at her legs. Flash stepping away just in time, the leader skidded to a halt, distracted as Adrian pulled himself out of the water. He was soaked and shivering, and his hair and fur were a mess.

"The sinner lives," Purity sounded livid. "But not for long."

Adrian was too cold to make a snappy retort, but Tash was in no way hindered, as she raised Nephthys and charge into flashstep again. She wished she could fly, but the spiked trees of Macalania prevented her taking off safely. She would have to rely on speed for this.

"Jurai-Ken – Tairenso!"

Her charge turned into a pounce, as she swung Nephthys over her right shoulder and leaped into the move flames exploding out around her. A wall of ice shot up in front of Purity, forcing Tash to pull up centimetres from the blockade. She spiralled out of her move and landed none too gracefully to one side.

"Jurai-Ke..." she was cut off as the ice beneath her feet began to rumble and creak. Deadly icicles shot up from the ground and she jumped left to avoid being skewered. The icy wall fell away to reveal Purity, crouched on his knees with one hand pressed on the ground. His eyes did not leave her as she dodged another icicle. Distracted, Tash yelped as another attack caught her right side, and sent her crashing to the pond.

"Tash!" Adrian was back on his feet, but his cry had alerted Purity, who rested his second hand on the ground. Icicles shot out of the cold earth, freezing around the Librarian's body, and binding him where he stood.

"You know," Purity said, his voice almost musing. "The human body is seventy percent water... that's more than enough to begin purging your sins, Librarian."

A frustrated scream drew his attention back to Tash, who had raised Nephthys above her head. She brought it down on the ice with a thundering crash, and a burst of fire rocketed towards the Sovereign. He leaped gracefully into the air on a pillar of ice, his eyes narrowed in focus. The ice covering the pond seemed to warp and rock, and Tash struggled to keep her balance. As a wave of tremors approached she jumped as high as she could...only to be smacked out of the sky by another icicle. It slammed painfully into her stomach and sent her crashing into one of the crystal like trees. Nephthys skidded across the pond, coming to a rest at the edge of the ice.

Coughing weakly, Tash pushed herself up against the tree. Breathing was painful and everything had a fuzzy tint to it. She saw Adrian struggling to free himself from his icy bindings, but it was just too thick for him to move against. Seeing Purity rise, and Nephthys so far away, Tash made to run for her sword. Two thick icicles shot from the ground and slammed against her wrists, pinning them to the tree in their freezing grip. She tried to wrestle free, but the crystal-like ice held her tight, even as two more icicles appeared and slammed into her legs, holding her tight against the bark. She could not move.

"Let... me... go!" the Assistant Librarian pushed with all her might against the ice, but it would not budge an inch. Purity was advancing on her, and her heartbeat tripled as he raised a hand.

"My sincere apologies," the Sovereign's hand was tangled in her hair. "He can wait. Ladies first, after all."

Both icy cold hands caressed her throat before he pulled her against his body. Her skin froze under his touch, going deeper and deeper until she thought her heart might turn to ice with her. Tash's strength abandoned her – she couldn't struggle against her bindings any longer. More terrifying was the sensation of her magic, usually simmering just beneath her skin, draining out of her, leeched away by the hands that now caressed her like some kind of prize. Desperately she tried to redirect her magic through her body to reheat her limbs, but nothing happened. He was sucking all the heat from her body. She had never felt so cold in her life.

But more sickening than anything was the feeling of his freezing hands wrapping around her neck and waist, forcing her into a cruel, desperate hug. The violation. The invasion. The hands were everywhere. She wanted to cry out, but her voice had deserted her as well. Her thoughts screamed for her.

"Let me go! Let me go! Stop touching me!"

There was a shattering noise, like glass breaking, and ice rained down like tiny crystals as Adrian finally blasted himself free of his bindings with magic. As Purity turned to glare at the interruption, the Librarian had let another blast of energy loose, and the wall of ice shot up again. Released from the draining grip, Tash hung limply from her icy restraints, her lips a faint tinge of blue.

"GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY WIFE!" Even soaking wet, with icicles forming in his hair, the Librarian managed to look ferocious. Purity did not flinch, but crouched to touch the ground again. Icicles rocketed upwards, but Adrian flashstepped away with ease, his magic concentrated towards Purity, who deflected the blasts with more walls.

"You don't deserve such a pure soul, you demon!" the Sovereign hissed, raising up, a spear of ice in his hand, pulled back ready to throw like a javelin. This appeared to have been what Adrian was waiting for – a blast of magic crashed into the ground by the Sovereign's feet, and the already weakened ice gave one final crack, before splitting from his weight. With a startled cry, the Sovereign plunged into the freezing water.

The control of the ice was broken, and Adrian skidded next to the tree, and smashed his way through the restraints on his girlfriend. She fell weakly to the ground, and she flinched as her boyfriend touched her. Adrian barely repressed a gasp – she felt frozen to her core. Pausing only to grab Nephthys from the edge of the pool, he scooped her up in his arms and darted from the clearing, just as Purity burst through the ice again, his cloak still managing to flap despite being soaked. As he saw his quarry vanish over the treetops of Macalania, he gave a scream of frustration.


"For Gods sake, all of you!" the Librarian raged, throwing the blankets off. "I will let you take my temperature after I have found my girlfriend!"

Valerie gave him a look which parents usually wore upon discovering that their child was refusing to eat dinner because they had stuffed their face with biscuits earlier. "You were under that water for almost three minutes Adrian! It's a miracle you didn't drown, let alone freeze to death! You're not leaving that bed until I am satisfied that you are better!"

"Tash had her magic drained by a Sovereign!" Adrian burst out. "If anyone should be getting medical attention it's her! Now let me go and find her!"

"Out of the question! I'm worried about Tash too, but you need to stay in this bed!" Valerie insisted, as Aimee reappeared with the leather restraint straps sometimes seen in hospitals where patients were a danger to themselves. "Don't make me use these!"

It wouldn't be the first time that the healer had been forced to cuff the Librarian to the bed, but the instant she turned around she caught the familiar blur of flash step and the sound of the door slamming behind him.

Valerie blinked. He had flash stepped so fast that he had left his shirt behind. Dropping the straps, she pocketed the still warm silk.

"Well... this is his good shirt," she said to Aimee. "If he wants this back he's going to have to come and let me take his temperature."

Adrian at this stage could not have given a damn about his shirt, good or not. What he cared about was opening the bedroom door and finding every light turned up as bright as they would go. There was not a single shadow in the room. His kitty nose twitched and he smelt soap – she had been in the shower if the damp in the air was anything to go on. Yet the bed was undisturbed save for the fact that it was missing its topmost blankets.

Following his nose, Adrian sighed heavily as he dropped to his knees and found Tash curled up on the floor underneath the bed, covered from head to toe in a forest of blankets. From her breathing, he guessed that she had fallen asleep, and as he gently tugged the covers back, his heart sank. Her skin was bright pink – she had been scrubbing at it with considerable force.

The Librarian made a gesture and the bed slid away, allowing him to scoop his love into his arms, blankets and all. A twitch of the head and the bed slid back as he lay her down gently, kissing her on the forehead as he did. The blazing lights went off with a click.

Shucking the rest of his clothes, he picked his way through the mountain of blankets and snuggled into her from behind and fitting his body to hers before wrapping his arms around her. Her hair was still damp and smelled of violets. It prompted a small smile from him – she had grown inordinately fond of that shampoo and had insisted he tried it. Despite his repeated denials, she had ambushed one day while he was in kitty form with a bucket full of soapy water and the shampoo. He had grudgingly admitted that it did smell nice...but would never say it aloud, due to the roar of laughter that exploded out of all of the Society's women when Tash had paraded him around as a giant ball of fluff thanks to the shampoo.

Kissing her head, he gently rubbed a hand down her arm and privately winced as he felt how cold she was. Snuggling closer, he kissed at her neck and felt his ear twitch happily as she sighed and snuggled deeper into him, almost as she was trying to merge them. Even in the sleep of the dead, she always knew when he was near.

And even now, after all of the day's events, she was still so beautiful. Not in the Hollywood definition and he was glad for it. Too many people put stock in that and after all you were around for a few hundred years, particularly with Phoenixia and all her myriad and various forms, it just a wrapping on a present box. Pretty, but unnecessary.

Tracing the curve of her ear with a finger and breathing in her scent, he marvelled at her and his luck for having her. She loved him, as a person, as a Librarian, as a fighter, as everything and all he was and he could never understand it. But that was half the fun. He'd point it out to her and she'd just smile and say that she'd take as long as it took to teach him. He certainly didn't mind. Phoenixia was right, he really should get around to proposing... just had to get that perfect ring... but he had a few ideas...

And a few more entered his head as he ran his hand down the side of her body, over her curves and back up them. They drifted there for a moment and made a few calls to some happy memories of beautiful, wild night and fantasies becoming very real, of cuddles with clothing strewn about the room or in some cases, just a pile of ash somewhere in the Library and gentle, tender kisses that conveyed love beyond any words in any of the thousand's of languages that he was aware of and he could never get enough of it.

Then a breath of concern blew the thoughts away like a spiderweb out of one's face as his fingers, creeping down her shoulder, found the top of her scar. A scar she had gained shortly after his death and one that would never leave. He ignored the thoughts in the back, whispering about how painful it must have been and how much she had bled, to focus on how he felt about it. She had seem to have come to terms with it in the nine months he had been gone, but the first time he had seen it, he realized that she had grown-up in that time. Taken a big step into his life and faced the very dangers he had challenged all of his life and not come out unscathed-something that he regretted far more than anything else he could recall.

That regret was perhaps only matched by how he had come to rely on her for comfort, for love, support and comfort and when she had needed him most, he had not been there. And worse,he had been the cause of it. To her and everyone else. It was something he would have to make up for... maybe a cruise on a beautiful world or one of those crystal garden palaces... and to her... to Natasha...

He would put a ring on her finger and be by her side for however long she wanted him to be. And maybe have a few blue-eyed little Tash-lets running around.

After a moment's thought, he decided he'd want a litter of them rather than just a few. It might take a little persuasion, but he was sure she'd go for it. She couldn't resist the kitty back-rub...

Speaking of which, as his breath stirred a few dry bits of her hair, Tash snuggled and somehow managed grab his tail instinctively, cuddling it to her chest with both hands firmly. He smiled and nuzzled into her head, letting a purr slowly build up. When it reached its peak, he finally felt her body relax against his. Kissing her briefly on the lips, he held her tight against him and murmured promises of reassurances that he was there.

He always would be.

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