Kali Dances
by SpikeDru

Asia, now

She dug her toes into the course-grained sand. It tickled as it ran through. Cool on the surface, soft as down feathers, but warm beneath and densely packed. Buffy liked it here. Some island, suggested by a chilled out guy back in Goa.

"Just go, hang," he'd said so she'd packed her rucksack again, traded her Levi's for a lift on a boat. When they'd drawn close, she'd waded ashore to find a handful of beach huts. A few people had greeted her, told her to pick a place to crash. She looked over the empty huts and chose one the furthest from the young couple who were clearly spending their days having lazy, blissed out sex. The structure was more like a tent, weather-faded colourful sarongs hanging from a wooden frame. The floor was sand, covered in worn woven mats, and the bed was a raised frame of creaking wood strung with old rope just waiting for a bedroll. In the trees outside, a canvas hammock idled. She hung.

She had woken this morning with the sun, her eyes slowly blinking open as it rose. When it shone from this angle, and again as it sank in the west, the coloured walls of her room filled the space within with jewels of thick light. Rich yellows and reds and greens. She lay on her creaking bedroll and smiled at the air. Her body was tingling, senses languidly revelling in the thin sheet covering her, the heavy salt air in her nose and the steady hiss of the waves.

Rising, she walked out into the sunlight still dressed in the old camisole and short sarong that she'd slept in. She dug her toes into the course-grained sand, delighting in the way it crunched between them. She didn't practise anymore, didn't work out. She just moved. The old forms Giles had taught her will still there, the memory imprinted on muscles, but now she let them relax. No need to fight now, just to feel the way the air whispered across her skin as she moved and the solidity of the world beneath her feet. The sunlight on her closed eyelids.

She understood it now. She'd watched Angel sometimes, when he'd been at the mansion and had thought she was at school. He'd moved slowly, deliberately and she couldn't see what satisfaction it could give. Sensation to her then had all been about who was fastest, strongest, sharpest. Giles had trained her later, talking of the breath as chi and the release of the mind. The stillness, the acceptance of the ambiguities, that had come from elsewhere.

From Spike, who had laughed as he died. She smiled, thinking of him as she swung into the Wheel of Karma.


America, two days ago

Drusilla danced, stamping her bare feet into the split blood on the makeshift alter and clapping her hands to her own rhythm. She spun and laughed and for a moment Wesley saw something else entirely. Dark skinned, multi-armed, revelling in the dance. He suspected it was the large dose of hallucinogenic tea he'd drunk that was causing that though.

It had tasted slightly funny, of course, but he'd put that down to the curious blends you got n the Americas. Professor Jenson had seemed like the typical quaint old scholar which, really, ought to have tipped Wesley off. So they'd talked of Hindu mythology and sipped tea. And then Wesley had awoken, tied to a pillar, in the midst of a bloodbath. Which the spiked tea really wasn't helping with.

As Drusilla danced, scores of tiny creatures tumbled in chaos on the floor. Scrabbling for purchase, ripping into one another and the bodies of the missing men and women lying beneath them. As Wesley watched one of the things looked up and saw him. It chittered and ran, claws and teeth sinking into his leg. He was surprised by how detached he felt.

"Jenson? Jenson? This won't end well, you can't trust Drusilla, you know."

The vampire paused, then hopped down from her alter. Her bare feet squished into the creatures, who screeched and yammered at her. She swayed towards Wesley, waltzing now amidst the bodies. She laughed, her mouth inhumanly wide. Her arms danced around her, leaving aftertrails of darkness behind them.

"Pssst," she said when she was close enough, "Shiva is done drumming now."

Two of her arms came up. She was holding a bloody sword in one and Jenson's head, dripping blood down her dress, in the other.

Wesley screamed.


Europe, three months ago

They were in the garden. The expected rain still hadn't come. Buffy still found this world alien. Green hills folding down over the horizon and air that held the constant promise of mists in the morning. She sat on the lawn, her legs crossed and the overgrowing grass tickling her legs.

Willow danced.

There was no music, no magic, just a young woman spinning and laughing in the sunlight. Her hair reflected colours, shifting and changing as her head moved. Birds occasionally swooped across the skies, calling to each other. A red admiral flittered across the lawn, following its own music. As she watched Willow, Buffy felt it. The earth tingling and vibrating beneath them, sending out a rhythm. This was what Willow heard, swung in time with. It seemed good.

Willow let out a final whoop of delight and flung herself onto the grass beside her friend.

"Good?" Buffy asked.

Willow smiled. "Good."

She sniffed slightly, wrinkling her nose and Buffy's disquiet returned. It was a face she was familiar with, focused and pouty. She'd seen it in class, in lectures, whilst watching Bollywood films or in the midst of battle. Willow was concentrating on something and not liking it.

"Something is coming."

"Here? Now?"

Willow shook her head. "Things are falling out of balance again."

"Again?" Buffy felt her ribcage ache. She didn't want it any more. She wasn't the anything now, she was one of many. They'd come to England to recover, to think. She'd never had the future before and she was resentful that something was taking it away from her before she'd even got the chance to decide what to do with it. Willow shook her head again, then propped herself up on her elbows and traced a line down the back of Buffy's hand with a blade of grass.

"It's not our fight this time. Not our place."

"Then whose?"

Willow looked up at the sky, squinting into the distance as a kestrel hovered over the uplift from a road. Buffy could tell Willow was seeing something more as the bird went into a killing swoop.

"This one is for the boys to sort out. There's some debts outstanding."


America, one week ago

"You know, I'm getting tired of all these voodoo mythical gods making themselves manifest," Gunn remarked, as he gracefully fell into one of Angel 's ridiculously large leather sofas. Fred passed him a cloth to finish wiping the blood of his face. "What with Tezcatcatl, Legba and now Shiva."

"Technically," Wes commented, "only Legba was a voodoo god."

"Well, sure, if you want to be correct about these things."

"The point is, why'd we keep getting the godly vengeance now?" Angel was doing his patented looking at everyone in the room to see who had an answer. Wes sometimes suspected that the vampire had quietly had some body language training after he became CEO of Wolfram and Hart. And sometimes he suspected it was just a side-effect of two centuries reading others' subconscious positions.

"You're Evil Incorporated, right? The nasties are always going to want to take out their biggest rival before setting off the apocalypse."

Except Spike. Angel never looked to include Spike in the conversations. The other vampire just joined in anyway. And Angel could never resist rising to the bait. How they had managed even twenty years in each others' company without killing each other, even allowing for Spike being a newborn vampire then, was beyond Wes's comprehension.


"-does have a point, Angel," Wes cut him off, "As the most prominent obstacle to any hellbent plan, you - we - are always going to be the first thing they try to destroy."

"OK. Let's recap then, for the benefit of those who were too hungover to be at the meeting this morning. Spike."

Spike didn't even bother to look affronted, Wes noticed, just rolled his eyes and slouched back in his chair. Wes picked up a book from the table and walked about with it. What with all the Wolfram & Hart resources, he could have had the codexes projected onto the flat screen but he found comfort in the tangible leather binding in his hand.

"Kali is a facet of the Hindu Devi and is also known as Black Mother Time. 'Death swims in her womb like a babe', according to most texts. She was created in order to kill demons-"

"Ha." Spike interjected, then looked away. He stared at the ceiling, ignoring Angel's glare. Wes smiled briefly.

"Yes, I suppose there is something of the Slayer in her. However, Kali is uncontrollable, but for her love of Shiva, the Lord of the Dance. Once, having celebrated the killing of two demons, she drank of their blood and began to dance. Wilder and wilder, crushing people beneath her feet, until Shiva threw himself beneath her and she paused."

"All of which is very interesting, if you're into the mumbo-jumbo. What are we facing?" Gunn asked.

"The creatures we encountered are Kali's children. Small, exceptionally strong, exceptionally bloodthirsty. Stuff of myths and legends."

"So why are they here, now?"

"I don't know. There's an expert on Shiva and Kali over in Pasadena, Jenson. I thought I might visit him."

Angel stood up, with that 'oh thank god, I have something I can do' look on his face. "Spike and I will check out the sightings of these things. Gunn, check with contracts."

The three of them took Angel's private lift down to the carpool. Angel and Spike taking turns to stare at the ceiling or the floor whilst Wes watched the floor indicator. The two seemed to be in permanent teenage funks with each other. Spike took care to needle Angel several times a day and Angel growled and glared and suggested places Spike could stuff it. Wes supposed it was relatively healthy. Certainly better than the time they had attempted to beat each other to a pulp in an attempt to prove who was king of the ensouled vampire castle. He supposed Angel needed someone constantly bugging him, the Roman slave muttering 'you are mortal' to the Emperor. Except, obviously, not mortal in this case. Yet when ever a fight started, and they still happened ridiculously often, the two would move in unison. Angel was more showy in style, with a definite liking for swords and other weapons, and Spike was more likely to be a chaotic whirl of fists yet the two of them worked. Didn't make sharing a lift with them any easier.

Driving over to Pasadena, having left the two vampires arguing about which car to take, Wes idly wondered how on earth the two of them ever agreed what to listen to on drives. Angel wanted his Saint-Saens, Spike his New York Dolls. When Wes and Gunn had to share a car with them - this being one of Angel's eco-friendly ways of trying to lessen the guilt of running an evil law firm - the music argument usually ended with a ripped out CD player.

He realised he was turning into the expert's road. Flowers dripped from trailing vines against white walls. In the dusk there were still sounds of children laughing and clatters of families preparing meals. He found the wrought iron gate with the right number on it but was surprised at the lack of buzzer. When he put his hand on the metal coils they were still warm from the sun and the gate swung open, unlocked.

"Hello? Professor Jenson?"

Inside was a small garden to the side of a low wooden house. An old apple tree dappled the light into yellows and lime greens. Maclura conchinensis had sprawled across the eaves. An iron table sat with its feet in the grass, two chairs on either side.

"I did call...?" Wes tried.

"Please, sit down." There was a man emerging from the open doorway of the house. He was old, perhaps in his late 60s, and compact, as if time were wearing away his flesh. White hair was tied in a long ponytail. He wore a faded blue shirt and chinos, and small oblong wire-rimmed glasses on the end of his nose.

"It is Wyndam-Price, isn't it?" There was a faint hint of colonial Britain in his accent. If Wes's estimate of his age was right, Jenson must have been a mere boy when the British flags were lowered in India. "I knew your father, of course, when he was in New Dheli."

"Of course. Professor Jenson, I'd very much like to pick your brains on rituals regarding Kali."

"Ah, the Shiva's Drum stuff?"

"Quite. We have reason to believe that someone has been attempting to call on Kali to take possession of a, well, of a vampire."

"Tea? Vampires, eh? Kali is, of course, not evil. Nor a demon in the sense you may mean. One early Sanskrit myth says she can be called to inhabit the body of the dead and bid to dance the dance which destroys time. Black Mother Time is turned by the wielder of Shiva's Drum."

Wes took a sip of his tea. It was assam, but with a muskier after-taste. He heard a sound in the house behind him.

"Oh, the pretty bird's wings will be clipped and he will sing no more. May I dance now?"


Asia, two months ago

Shanghai wasn't what Buffy had expected. She'd had dreamy visions of ancient streets, wise old wizened men, incense and bicycles. Silk and opium.

There were skyscrapers. And cars. Many many cars. The people wore western clothes and talked on mobile phones. Neon, not lanterns, lit it at night and there was English language news on the satellite television in her hotel.

Chao-Ahn's family did live in a wooden, one-storey house in an old part of town. There was washing on the line and proud photos of children and grandchildren on the wall. They only had state television, no English to learn from. So Buffy had to speak through a translator, a young student Giles had picked up in Oxford. They didn't call themselves Watchers any more, the proto-organisation back in England. They didn't want something so passive, so masculine. Heck, why else had they started training Andrew? So Giles would recruit young esoteric men from JCRs in the universities and send them out to learn. To do all the supporting stuff a fighter needed. James Wong was young, clever and only slightly tweedy. He smelt of dope and patouchi beneath the fresh Persil-white of his shirt.

She'd decided, after that English summer of hazed heat, to travel. Not without purpose though. The seven years as a Slayer had turned her a shallow Valley girl into a woman who liked meaning. So they'd drawn up a list of all the girls who had died in those last weeks in Sunnydale and she had visited their families, one by one. Some had known where their daughters had gone. Some hadn't, just wept for a missing girl on a police list somewhere. Most already knew their daughter was dead. Wesley had seen that the list of girls had been included in the official lists of the 'earthquake' victims. Yet Buffy had sat uncomfortably on sofas in rooms that held the bric-a-brac of a family, apologising and counselling the bereaved. Europe, then Africa, then South America and on to Australia. Finally Asia.

On the flight into Shanghai, for the last of the visits, James had taught her a few key phrases in Cantonese. Phrase-book stuff obviously, but also a few words of apology. She stood now in the main room of Chao-Ahn's family, knowing she was a signifier of their daughter's death, and reciting the phrase she had come all this way to say.

"I am sorry for Chao-Ahn's death. Every person that died that day was one too many."

James took over then, and Buffy stood looking at the room. In one corner was a shrine. It was a goddess of some sort, playing with a baby and holding a book. Buddhist, she guessed. Incense burned before it and for a moment she felt a tingle, a faint aftershock. Every person that died that day was one too many. One in particular had paid his dues that glaring morning, his soul burning away his past evils.

Then she realised she wasn't quite done yet.


South America, three months ago

Jenson sat at an outside table, sipping a lukewarm beer and watching that no-one came near his car. He'd found it. Thirty years of research. As a small boy he had crawled up into the lap of his Indian nursemaid and she had sung him songs in Hindu: songs of Shiva the drummer, of blue-skinned Krsna, of black-wombed Kali. He had watched people dance to strange drumming and longed to dance amongst them, but his family had held his shoulder so he stayed still.

After independence, after Partition and rebuilding, he had gone to Cambridge to study anthropology and some of the more arcane subjects. The lot over in Oxford were always playing with their vampires and demons, their western ideas, but in his minds eye Black Mother Time still danced. He'd snubbed the invite to join the Watchers and returned to New Dehli to continue his study. He'd started looking for Shiva's Drum: the drum on which the first OM of the universe had sounded, the drum whose beat Kali had to answer. A trail had led him high in Tibet, then back to Europe and the secret archives of the Aryan Reich. The Nazi obsession with the roots of their race which had led them to explore the high mountains of Asia. That in turn had led him here. A small town high in the Andes with a neat lodge nestled above it in the jungle. And nestled within that eyrie, one of the last of Hitler's architects of the failed ubermenschen: pallid, frail and afraid for his life. He had parted willingly with an old drum that he didn't believe in, in exchange for Jenson's promise not to reveal his location.

"They do not taste right, the men of the eagle," a woman said behind him.

He looked at the twinkling lights of the eyrie, high in the darkness of the hills. In the village, the locals had seemingly no knowledge of the evil perched above them. Or swaying in the lights of the bar.

The vampire had raven hair, spilling down across her pale arms. She was dancing to no music that could be heard. She paused, arms raised mid-gesture, and cocked her head to one side.

"You love a dark mistress," she said, "Not like my lost boys. My daddy doesn 't love me, my son neither. Why not, when I had them dance inside me so often?"

"Would you dance for them now?" he asked.

"Dance for myself. All alone now. Just me and the dark goddess."


Asia, a month ago

It had taken a long time to find the right building. Tucked in a side-street on the west side of the old Chinese city part of Beijing. The area was towered over by new building works, mechanical cranes replacing herons in the skyline. The temple had remained, run-down but loved by its users. Thick wooden pillars, as fat as tree trunks, held up the roof over the wide wall of alters. Incense choked the air, making Buffy's eyes water.

Had this been what it was like then? she had wondered. The street had been on fire, she remembered him saying, filling the rooms with smoke.

Off to one side, set a little away from the ranks of Buddhist gods, was a small shrine. An urn sat in it, beneath curling tendrils of incense and a mottled, faded photograph. A daguerreotype, silver and back faded to sepia reflections. A young Chinese girl, stiffly frozen by the camera.

Of course she had been cremated. The legends may have been different here, and perhaps one more dead girl wouldn't have been noticed, but her Watcher had made sure she was turned to dust. Slayers rarely got graves. Only if they died by non-vampire hands.

This one had been killed by Spike.

When she'd first heard him talk of it, she had been appalled. He had ripped out the Slayer's throat and fed it to Drusilla on the dirt floor of the temple. His cock had filled with her dying blood and he'd used it to stake his claim on Angelus's mad whore.

This girl had marked him.

She had started his obsession, tangled his desires up so that Slayers were part of it. The first Slayer to consume him so that he had to possess her. In death if not in life. The first step on a path into an abyss from which he had emerged a man. A hundred years later and he still had the taste of her blood in his mouth and the mark of her sword on his face. Once, during those last calm nights with him, Buffy has traced the scar gently and he had shuddered. He'd never apologised.

Buffy looked at the photograph.

"I'm sorry," she told it, "I'm sorry for how he killed you. But you have to know he changed, he fought off those demons and became a hero. I'm not sorry I loved him. I still love him."

She placed small offerings in front of the shrine and left a generous donation for the temple gods.


America, two days ago

Each light step of Drusilla caused the earth to shudder. She had flung Jenson's head to the critters beneath her feet, who jabbered and chattered as they ripped it apart. Wes watched the way her hair spiralled as she danced, the way she rubbed her belly and licked her lips as she held his gaze. Every step she took shook the world. A rising dark drumbeat heavier than heartbeats.

"Poor little Watcher. The little birds have flown from you and you are left grasping emptiness."

"Give it a rest, would you, Dru?"

Spike was leaning on the doorway, lighting a cigarette. In the flare of the lighter, he saw the darkness of Angel stood behind the other vampire. Black and white, darkness and light, but which was which? Which had a heart of darkness wrapped within their soul and which a burning brightness within their monster? He laughed.

"Wes? Are you OK?" he heard Angel ask quietly.

"I think I may have been drugged," he told him.

And still Dru danced.

"Shiva thought I danced for him," she remarked as she twirled, her bare feet stamping on a human face. The whole building shuddered.

"Dru, luv, you'll bring all of California down with you," Spike said, stepping forward.

"This city of Angels should be eaten by the dark goddess. This land of light 's time is done."


"I'm pet to no one now, my lover. Daughter of the goddess of Time now, not a daddy's girl no more."

Angel had come to crouch next to Wes, pulling a knife from his pocket to cut the ropes from about him. Wes leaned over. "The ritual could work, Angel, the whole continent could be destroyed if she keeps dancing."

He watched as Angel stood. Spike had been dodging closer to Dru, trying not to step on the bodies she trampled over and shaking off the chittering creatures that crawled at his legs. She was not stopping, but twitching and curbing her moves so she kept slipping out of his grasp. All the while laughing. Then Angel was moving, flinging himself forward.

"I listen to my new mama now," Dru said, "you sting like cold metal. I only love my mama and daddy."

Spike had stopped moving. "Look down, Dru."

Wes realised then, as Dru looked to her bloody feet. Angel was beneath her, letting her smash at his face and chest. Pounding into it as the creatures pulled and tore at the flesh. Dru gasped and, just for a moment, paused.


Spike slammed into her, throwing her to the ground. They tumbled and rolled, fighting as they must have loved, and then Spike was pinning her down.

"I'm sorry, luv, but I can't let you end the world."

The creatures were gibbering now, turning on each other, as if only the mad vampire's footbeats had directed them to tear up humans. Wes crawled over to Angel, who had rolled onto his side and was gingerly touching the bloody bruises raised on his chest. He helped Angel sit up and turn to the others. Spike was cautiously raising himself so that Dru could sit up. She was crying, rocking back and forth.

"It's her, isn't it? You'll never hold her in sunlight, my love, not like we danced on moonbeams."

"No, pet, we won't. But I can't let you destroy the world, all the same."

Wes realised Spike had drawn a stake from his coat pocket, holding it casually by his side. Dru stood and ran to the wall. There were ropes there which kept the blinds above them closed. She closed her hand on one and smiled.

"You'll not harm your mama again, will you, my boy? Not when I can let the sun steal your life."

Spike shrugged, glanced towards where Angel and Wes sat. "Sorry, luv," he said, thrusting the stake home. As Dru's skin turned to dust, a dark figure within her moved the disintegrating arm, pulled the rope to let the sun cascade in.

Wes thought time paused for a moment.


Dru's dust sparkled gold in the sunlight. It hovered as a cloud, mid-explosion. Spike stared at it. Then raised his hand to see the way in which it wasn't burning in the sun. He glanced over and saw Angel with one arm thrown upwards as if that could defend a vampire against the full power of the eternal flame. Angel lowered his arm in confusion and looked at Spike. He glanced at Wes, who had frozen mid-scramble. He had been pulling at Angel's other arm, to try to get him into the shade.

"Sorry about that," a high voice remarked from near the bloody alter, "sisters. What can you do?"

Spike turned to see a man, clad in gold and red cloth. His skin was entirely blue. He smiled at the two vampires.

"She tends to get a little carried away, does our Kali. Tends to forget that there is a balance to maintain."

"You're not about to bang on about the Force or the Dark Side, are you?" Spike asked. The figure shook his head.

"That Lucas...makes manifesting so much harder these days. No, Spike, this is the real balance. The Wheel of Karma. Which brings me to my point. It's time for a choice, gentlemen.

"You have done us a great service by preventing our sister from dancing the world to pieces. Both of you were willing to sacrifice your life to do so. Trouble is, the gods - or powers, or senior partners or whatever you wish to call us - can only offer one of you another turn on the wheel.

"You've both lived so many lives already. Unlike most humans, you get to see your past and work towards nirvana - no, Spike, please don't make a Cobain joke - gaining new levels of understanding as you move to the next level."

"Instant karma's gonna get you..." Spike muttered.

"If you must. I can only offer one of you the chance to move on. There's the problem of a pre-existing prophesy."

"Move on as Cordy moved on?" Angel asked.

The blue god smiled. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. What you get will depend on what you deserve."

"Let Angel take it," Spike said abruptly. He shuffled slightly, looked closely at the dust as if he could still see Drusilla's face in its formation.

"Let Spike have it," Angel said at the same moment. Spike turned on him. Really, the older vampire was insufferable.

"Are you an idiot? You're the one who wants redemption, the one trying to work through all the bad stuff you've accumulated on your record. I don't care. Here's your chance to progress, stop paying."

Angel stood, wincing as his movements suggested Dru had broken a rib in her dancing. "One of those things I need to pay for is you, you moron. You and Dru. I created you both. That's a debt I still owe."

Spike took a step towards the other vampire, his jaw setting ready for a fight.

Krsna sighed and changed time.


Wes pulled on Angel's arm and then realised they were already in the shade at the back of the hall as the blinds fell away from the skylights. The creatures were fading shadows in the broad light of day. Dru's dust danced about Spike's head like a halo of sunlight. He stood, the sun streaming in and held one hand up. He watched as the dust drifted past and there were no flames. Spike turned to stare at Angel, who was looking curiously pleased.

"You stubborn bastard," Spike said.

"Why do I get the feeling I missed something?" Wes asked.


Asia, now

Buffy always practised with her eyes closed. She let her skin see the breezes and the salt in the air, the warm of the rising sun. Her ears caught the distant chugga-chugga of an outboard in the channel but she let it become part of the complex rythym she danced to, along with the hush-hush of the waves she faced. The form was both dancing and fighting, and it was something more languid than that. As she moved slowly and let the tensions ease and release, she felt it as an eternal beat, a pattern drummed lightly on the earth.

The sun warmed her skin, the breeze cooled it. Give and take in perfect harmony. The balance. She had settled all the debts now and was free to just move as Willow had moved back in England. As she let her arms drop into the prayer position, elbows out high and fingers loose and relaxed, she felt someone move in behind her. She caught her breath as she felt him move so that his hands were close to her exposed waist. There was another smell now, of salt drying in hair and a whiff of smoke.

His hands touched her sides, tentatively, unsure yet of her reaction. She exhaled. And he circled her waist with his arms, stepping up to press against her back. She let her hands fall on top of his, holding them against her belly. Traced random patterns lightly across them.

"Are you a dream?" she asked, eyes still closed.

"I think I might be dreaming," he said and at the wonder in his voice, at her own wonder at his voice at all, she opened her eyes and turned within his arms. "Hello Buffy," said Spike.

She reached her arms about his neck and stared at him. In the sunlight, he squinted slightly as if still wincing away from its touch. They leant their foreheads together for a long time, looking at each other with half-smiles.

"Hello you," she said, eventually.

She led him back to the tent, taking his left hand and almost shyly pulling him along. Inside, she had drunk in the sight of him some more. Pale, of course, and dressed to cover himself from the sun. Dark trousers cut off below the knee. The white Indian cotton shirt showed glimpses of his right collarbone and she was overwhelmed with a desire to kiss it. She did.

His skin was warm. Still cool by most standards, but up from the room heat he had been before. She kissed his other collarbone then, to check. Then raised his left hand and kissed that. Then each finger of the hand. She sucked on his thumb for a brief second, her tongue licking the salt on it from where he must have waded ashore. His breath caught and she looked back at his face. He was wary, even after all this time. She dropped his left hand and caught up his right, bringing it to shoulder height. Slowly, her eyes holding his, she interlocked it with her left. The both gasped at the heat of it.

"I love you," she said, and this time he didn't argue.


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