I was in the library once more. More often these days, I have found myself here when the night rises, causing me to wonder if I am surrounding myself with knowledge to sate the fact that I might know nothing. The chessboard remained beside the fire, returned to its usual place, the remains of our first game still untouched. Hekate has been avoiding me for two days, and I have left her to her own devices.
I was pondering the fire when a sound made me look up. Hekate stood on the threshold, leaning casually against the door. As far as I could tell, she wore nothing but one of my favorite navy dress shirts, the silver filigree on the edging glinting in the low light. It took awhile for my eyes to travel up the length of her legs. My gaze stumbled over the line where my shirt stopped just past her thighs, and jumped to her face. She gave me a smile that, looking back, should have told me she was up to something.
“Hekate…?” She looked absolutely stunning, and I have kept that image with me ever since.
“That’s right,” she purred. “Maybe I shouldn’t have left you alone for so long. Can’t even remember my name.”
“There is nothing about you I could ever forget,” I murmured, going to stand and meet her. My shirt was five sizes too big for her slight frame and yet did little to hide the sinuous flow of her hips as she walked toward me. An arm’s length away, Hekate raised her hand and laid it against my bare chest, stopping me in my tracks.
I followed her eyes down to my tattoo, watched as her index finger moved, tracing the inked line of the wolf’s jaws. Her smile, when she looked up at me, looked just as predatory. With a gentle press of her hand, she urged me back toward my chair. My eyes held hers as I retreated, resuming my seat. She leaned down and grabbed my half-full glass, and threw back the rest of my drink, her cheeks flushing as the absinthe hit her system.
“Let me refill this for you. I’m sure you’ll want it,” she said, turning to carry my empty glass to the bar. “Same poison, or something different?”
“Surprise me,” I replied, eyes wandering over her calves and thighs. I heard the slosh of liquid and the soft chink of a decanter being stoppered. She returned to my side, fresh drink in hand, whiskey by the looks of it.
“Oh, I intend to.”
Hekate pressed the glass in my hand, deftly avoiding my fingers. She sat down opposite me, not much different from the last time we were here. The flames in her eyes danced as she reached two fingers into the breast pocket of my shirt, drawing out a piece of paper crisscrossed with flattened creases from a previous folding. She held it up then bent forward, placing my wager from our game on the table. I raised an eyebrow.
“You kept it.” Picking it up off the table, I refolded it along my old lines, giving the crane new life, before setting it back onto the table beside my glass. “What of it? Neither of us won.”
“No, we both decidedly lost. That’s your fault.” Hekate’s slender fingers curled over the arms of the chair.
I crossed my leg over my knee, searching her face, wondering what she was feeling right now. “Yes, it was. For a good reason. Unless you’ve come to speak to me about the reason I threw the game?”
“Oh, you made yourself quite clear. So, let me make myself clear. I don’t need or want your mercy, Hades. It’s insulting, like letting a child win because you don’t consider them your equal, but you don’t want to make them cry.”
The Witch Queen rose to her feet and walked to the door, but instead of leaving, she shut it. Turning, she leaned against it for a moment, eyes closed. When she opened them again, her eyes looked feral. Hekate glided across the floor toward me, dimming the lights in the room with a graceful sweep of her hand. I looked up at her as she came to a stop in front of my chair.
“I am holding us both to the letter of your wager. I will fulfill your request. You will not touch me with anything other than your eyes. Understand?”
The smallest flash of warmth ran through my throat, but I swallowed it. “I understand.”
Unsatisfied with my answer, Hekate stepped forward, her bare leg brushing mine. She leaned down, one hand on either arm of my chair until her eyes were level with mine. “Swear the strongest oath you know, Hades.”
Those words rang like a bell, ancient and lost, through my memory. I knew them from somewhere, but the woman before me was pulling me away from the past, keeping me in the present. I nodded slowly. “Hekate, I swear to you on my heart, home, and soul. I will not touch you during this, as you have asked me.”
We watched one another for a moment, reminiscent of two predators meeting in the depths of the night. Her long tresses veiled her face, draping her shoulders in darkness. The light from the fire lined her face with a beautiful golden glow, amber for the jet of her hair. Her gaze dropped to my mouth and lingered there for a moment before she straightened up and stepped away.
She walked over to the tablet embedded in the wall and swiped through the music stored there, searching for a particular song. With a final tap of her finger on the screen, the selected track began to play…tribal, sensual, something I recognized from the party weeks ago. She turned her head toward me and lifted her eyes, her hand rising to the top button of my shirt as she walked back to me.
Hekate’s eyes captured mine but failed to hold them as her fingers undid the top button. When my eyes met hers again, she smiled the smile of a large cat toying with its prey, letting it think it has a chance, knowing it does not. She took her time with the rest of the buttons, trailing her fingers down between her breasts, confirming my suspicions that she was wearing nothing but the shirt she had stolen for the occasion.
With a sultry smile, she turned neatly on her toes, her body swaying in time to the music. She curved her neck to look back at me, watching me from the corner of her eye as she rolled her shoulders in time to the pulse of the drums. Like cloth-of-night, my shirt slipped down her back in a controlled descent, unveiling her one inch at a time. Reaching behind her, she drew her wrists from the sleeves, one after the other, and arched toward me. With a sinuous movement of her arm, she dropped the shirt at my feet like the challenge it was.
I leaned over in my chair, my eyes not leaving Hekate as I took my shirt from the floor and tossed it onto her vacated seat, ensuring I was deliberate in avoiding touching her. I sat back once more, inhaling deeply, but keeping my words to myself. If she was trying to get even with me, which I was confident she was at this point, I was not going to make it easy.
I saw the flames leap in her eyes a moment before she began to move. The precision of her dance made it difficult to tell if the music was moving her, or if she was driving the music. Every slow unfurling of her hand or roll of her wrist was a tease for an answering movement in her hips, telling me where to look, luring my gaze along every dangerous curve of her body.
Then she gasped, back arching, eyes fluttering shut. Her hands slid over her breasts, the smooth plain of her waist, the fullness of her hips, tracing a path of pleasure down her body. As if to answer, a bright spiraling line curled around her ankle and began to climb her skin. Another like it followed a mirrored path up her other leg, twining around her like a flowering vine made of fire.
Entranced, I watched her move, watched the molten lines of power etch her body in blazing red and burning gold. The light seemed to move within the lines, the way fire rolls through a bed of coals. She raised her arms, pulling her hair up off her shoulders, seemingly unaware of anyone or anything but the magic flooding through her. The ember-like tracings of her magic etched symmetrical paths around her legs and thighs, decorating the hollow of her back, racing up her sides to spiral around her breasts.
Scattered along the fire’s path, arcane symbols and tribal whorls began to bloom. Some of the sigils were familiar to me, others a mystery I wanted to know. I could hear her breath coming fast as her power ran its course over her shoulders and down her arms. Then, she went still, body paused in mid-beat. I looked up in time to see her turn her head toward me, her glowing eyes now black as the void, all the fire drawn out of them and forged into her skin.
I did not realize my hands were gripping the arms of my chair so tightly until I heard a small crack beneath my hands. It was superficial—Hekate was not. The library felt warmer than the fires that lit it, and for the first time in many, many years, I wanted to put aside my rules and dignity. Firelight trailed over her alabaster skin, reminding me of the sculptures down the hall that I molded with my hands. I wanted nothing more, at that moment, to do the same with her flesh.
Forcing myself to relax, I grabbed the glass Hekate had filled for me instead and took a long swallow. The abyss of her eyes flared as I rose from my seat, the omega on my abdomen glowing for a moment. I clasped my hands behind my bare back and stood before her. Hekate hissed a soft warning, lips drawing back. I would keep my oath—I always do—but this would not be a dance of one.
Keeping my hands to myself, I moved around her, her aura leaping to mine, the air electric between us. Her voids looked into my moons, my arms tightening as I had to resist, once more, the urge to fold her into me, not unlike the crane on the table. I was wholly able to understand why her people worshipped the Witch Queen.
The markings on her skin brightened and dimmed in response to my movements, the way wind direction shifts fire. She watched me pace around her, her stare as brazen as the molten lines on her flesh. She angled her neck to follow me with her eyes as I crossed in front of her, then circled behind her. Hands still shackled by my oath, I stepped closer, close enough to drink in the scent of her, to feel her hair brush against my torso like fine silk as she angled her head up at me.
Hekate let her head loll back against my chest, a devilish smile on her face. “Remember, Hades…you promised.”
With a single undulating step, her body flowed against mine. Her fingertips sank into my hips as she pulled me hard against her, grinding her ass against my thighs. I closed my eyes to try to reinforce my eroding control and felt her arm slip up and around the back of my neck. Drawing my head down to hers, she waited for me to look at her before arching her body around to face me. Her free hand slid down my back, lower, as she pressed herself against me, her mouth lingering just short of mine.
“Are you…satisfied, Hades?” Her breath was warm on my lips. “Is the wager paid?”
My hands were digging trenches into my wrists behind me, and it took everything in me not to cross the last measure of distance between us and kiss her.
“Yes, Hekate. Consider it paid.”
She lingered for a moment before giving me a coquettish grin and slipping away. I watched her walk back to her chair and slip my shirt over her pale shoulders. As her hands searched for the first button, she turned to face me, a different kind of satisfaction in her eyes.
I felt myself move. Crossing the room, I grabbed her wrist and pulled her sharply towards me, gathering her body against mine, pinning her against a pillar. Her eyes were wild as I leaned into her, one of my hands finding its way into her hair, the other tearing my shirt away from her. I buried my face in the curve of her shoulder. Her skin felt like magma. At that moment, I would have given just about anything to burn.
“What are you doing?!” she gasped.
I slid my mouth up the taut arch of her neck. “Reveling in you…not treating you like a child. You do not want my mercy, remember?”
A shudder ran through her, and I felt the tide of her resistance turn. Her arms tangled around my neck, pulling me into her fire. I flicked my tongue over the sensitive skin just below her ear as both of my hands slipped beneath my shirt, trailing up her sides. Goosebumps erupted beneath my fingertips, her soft moans urging me to explore her further.
“I can’t…do this…anymore…” she breathed, arching against me. I reached up to twine my hand in her hair, holding her still.
“And what would that be, Hekate? Tell me what it is you cannot do anymore, and I will assist.”
I spoke my words, just shy of her lips, the same as she had done to me. The whimper of longing that escaped her paid for all, and only amplified my need to consume her. Sliding my hand around the back of her thigh, I drew her slender leg around my still-clothed hips as I brushed kisses at the corners of her mouth, along her jaw, down her neck.
“Can’t fight this…I can’t…y-you win… ”
“Mmmm…” I hummed against her throat, fitting her even more tightly against me, nipping at her skin. “Does this mean the Queen has deemed me worthy of sharing her secrets?”
For a moment, she writhed in my arms, frantic with desire, then she stilled, pushing back against my chest, trying to escape through the pillar at her back. Her sudden resistance stopped me cold, making me pull away. I released her gently, brushing her cheek with the back of my fingers.
“Hekate? What is wrong?”
She closed her eyes, her hands clutching at my half-discarded shirt to cover herself. I watched a single tear slide down her cheek, silver in a room of gold.
“I don’t understand why you won’t just let this go. Why you’ve decided the price for your heart is destroying what’s left of mine. I’m not going to tell you, Hades. I…can’t. I won’t.”
Hekate pushed past me, moving toward the door. She slowed to a stop as she passed the chessboard. Dashing my shirt cuff across her cheek, she reached down and touched the black king, toppling him with a flick of her finger. I watched her pull herself straight, the fiery lines of her magic visibly fading. She turned to look at me, something broken in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was hollow.
“You really should have taken the Queen.”
Hekate glanced one more time at the board and left, as silent as a ghost.
Her words haunted me for hours. So did the memory of her voice, her near-surrender, the naked desire in her eyes, and her naked body moving beneath my hands. I remained in the library, sitting in her chair, drinking and watching the fire die slowly. How symbolic, I thought.
I glanced at the chessboard, arrayed in black and white, as stark as the line I had drawn between us. For me, that line was a threshold, a door to something more. For Hekate, it was a wall, me on one side and her on the other. It was obvious she did not understand.
I reached for the piece she knocked over, then changed my mind. With a heavy sigh, I left the dark king where he had fallen—at the feet of the pale queen.