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Continued from Alliances?

Aria had left her savior's house with hope of some kind. It wasn't a fullfilling hope, but hope none-the-less. It was something that kept her warm against the cold air that drew down on the city. The snow had started falling in heavy wet flakes when she was halfway home. There was no point in taking the metro.

By the time she had reached her apartment she was nearly frozen to the bone. So cold that when she stepped into a warm bath it was like knives piercing her skin. The pain was the only thing she wanted to feel, despite the hope that had been given. The pain was far too intoxicating, too powerful a draw.

Aria sank into the darkness and the pain as the water covered her body and she preformed what had become an almost nightly ritual.

The next few days Aria spent most of her time in the database at headquarters, reading mission logs, the ones that she could anyway. There was many she couldn't but she expected that they were successful, but details were being kept from the lesser echelon for 'security' reasons.

Aria found a few peices of information that she found useful. The first being Father Stone was hiding a girl who posessed the gift. And the only reason she'd found that he was the one hiding her was because it was his daughter. A priest with a child was rather against his faith, but the fact that she could also weild the power of the gods made it all the more worse.

The second peice of information was of a recent failed mission. The details hadn't all be filed yet, but one Jaxen Marveet had survived, supposedly. The Regus had mentioned his name to her once, and Aria actually had met two of the hunters involved. She'd worked with Rune of course, and met, however briefly, her uncle Seth. Both Americans. Aria actually remembered the day Seth was given the command. It had been the same day she'd started working on the manuscript. That seemed like forever ago to her, but it was only mere months since she'd come to Moscow. Months!

Aria was getting antsy, not enough hunting. She had very little excuse to go out and walk the streets. But she had to. She had to get out and do something other than comb through the data she had on Ascendancy or the other gods. The books of old were no use to them anymore. They didn't have the devices and things they described, and if they did they wouldn't even know how to begin using them anyway.

Killing a man because he possessed some ancient power was wrong, it may have been necessary once, but even then not every man or woman weilding such power was evil, was prone to kill humanity. There had to be good. It was no different then. The Atharim were afraid, that is all. Afraid all men where like that.

As Aria was leaving headquarters to hunt, Father Stone stopped her. He griped at her over not having any reports from her in a while. He made to strike Aria again. But Aria reached for her sword and he paused a moment. She was a field hunter, her sole job was to kill monsters. Dispatching a human was far too easy and Father Stone knew it. He remembered the fear, Aria could see it in his eyes.

Aria stalked out of headquarters and headed to the Red Light District. Monsters lurked everywhere, but tonight she hunted something far more precious. Father Stone had a daughter, a reborn god, but she was still human, and human's die far easier than a monster. You just had to do it right.

The girl sat slumped over against a building. It looked as if Aria had been too late, but the girl sat shivering in the cold, huddled to the building for heat. Aria could feel the pain of withdrawl hitting her. Aria closed her eyes. It was unlike most pain she'd felt, the entirty of her body felt like it was going to explode, but there was no heat, nothing just the overwhelming feeling she'd die soon.

The pain made Aria change her mind. The girl suffered, Father Stone's daughter suffered. Aria lurked in the shadows feeding off the girls pain.

Aria didn't know how long she'd stood there, but the desire for the pain grew lesser, the hunger had been stayed and she walked away without touching a hair on the blonde girls dirty little head. It was the first time the hunger was gone. Aria felt almost empty without it.

But the fact that she'd been ready to kill the girl made Aria afraid of what she could do, just at the though of someone who'd hurt her before. What the darkness of the night pulled her towards. The night with Dane had changed everything, she'd broken something, and it was forever calling to her. She frightened herself. She had thought it was Dane she was drawn to, but these days without him in her thoughts, most of the time, things had become all too clear. It was her own dark desires, that lingered just out of reach, just close enough to tempt to be a threat everyday. She wanted to hurt someone, she longed to make them suffer. The darkness was the threat. It made the hunger so much stronger.

Aria walked the city streets during the day for the first time really since coming to Moscow. Most her travels had been at night, when monsters lurked. The air was cold, but the sun was in the sky, while it did nothing for her mood, it was better than the darkness that lingered when she stalked the streets at night.

Even in the cold afternoon air people walked from place to place, nearly unaware of the crisp air. Aria huddled in her trench coat trying to stay warm. She'd have to invest in a hat or something if she wanted to stay topside in the dreary Moscovian winters. For now she was thankful the wind was not brisk and was only an occassional whaft of cold air across her skin.

Only one good thing had come from the past months, walking down the streets no longer overwhelmed her. Too many people crowding the streets left Aria wary, but she could manage without migraine, or without worry their feelings would overwhelm hers and put her on the ground. For that she was thankful.

But with that control came a greater threat, losing herself to the darkness within. It grew stronger each day. Each day it grew harder to fight the desire to inflict pain and suffereing. She hunted to ease the hunger inside, but it wasn't so easily stayed. But the sun kept the darkness at bay, kept the dark thoughts in the darkness inside. Night would fall, and she'd be again at her own mercy.

Aria let her senses wander just outside of her immediate region. She wasn't looking for anything more than something that might try to jump out and scare her or worse. Moscow was a dangerous place during the day or night in the wrong neighbor hoods, and Aria wasn't being overly cautious in her wanderings.

Much like the pain she'd sensed when she'd found Connor, Aria found the pain lingering on her senses. A few steps forward and a tattoo parlor with a few customers under the needle grimaced in pain inside. The physical pain was intoxicating. Aria went inside, the bell above the door rang and the two men in the chairs holding the needle looked up. Both looked Russian by decent, one smiled at her, the other just bent his head back to his work.

The one who had smiled at her patted the man's should her'd been working on. "All done. Remember, keep the salve on until it's fully healed."
Aria watched the man with new tattoo pay up and walked out the door with a shadow of pain still lingering in his mind. Aria turned and watched him leave.

She felt the now free artist walk up to her, he was in a good mood. When she turned around he was an appropriate distance away with a smile that light up his bright blue eyes. Aria smiled back. "What can I do for you?"

Aria looked around. "Just browsing."

He laughed. "You don't browse unless you are looking for something."

Aria pulled off her gloves and stuck them in her pocket, then hung her jacket up near the door on the provided coat rack. "I'm not sure yet."

He grabbed her left hand and held it palm side up and looked at her tattoo. Aria cocked her head at him wondering what he was doing. "Looks rather old. When'd you get this done?"

Aria smiled, his hand was warm holding her arm. She almost felt like blushing, but didn't, more perplexed at herself than anything. "Since I was 15, I guess."

He grinned down at her "So not very long then."

Aria shook her head with a smile. "You'd be surprised. Can I have my arm back?"

He looked embarrassed, but there was no embarassment in his emotions. He was happy, almost too happy for Aria. It almost pushed out the pain from the man under the needle. Aria had to do a double take and try to remember what she'd heard. "Yeah. Sorry. What you looking for then?"
He let her arm go, but it felt like his fingers lingered in hers far longer than necessary. Aria smiled back at him.

"An update. Turmoil, the way I feel I guess. But the snake has to stay, exactly as is, color added, doesn't matter, but it has to stay."

He nodded and handed Aria a card. "Lucas. My card so you call me."

The men behind him chuckled over the purr of the needle.

Aria took the card and put it in her jeans pocket and offered her hand. "Aria."

Lucas shook her hand and he smiled at her. Something about him made Aria push the pain away. She didn't know why, but she'd rather stay in his presence. She pulled her hand from his grip slowly and turned towards the wall of drawings and pictures looking for inspiration.

Aria looked at the wall and Lucas just stood by her side with a finger to his chin. He looked deep in thought, his emotions said he was concentrating and serious and the playfulness had left. Aria smiled, he was trying to find something for her too.

(really long post - breaking it up)

Edited by Aria, Jul 28 2014, 10:07 AM.
Picking a tattoo for someone wasn't really what he did. They were very personal. They had meaning for the person who got them, an emotional connection- well most of them did. The people who came in wanting a McDonald's tattoo above their ass were just morons. But it was not his job to judge. Well at least not verbally. In his own mind he did though, at least for that kind of stuff.

But most people wanted something they could relate to, that represented a place in their journey, a waypost or a destination or a memory. He liked doing those. When worked, skillfully following the trace, he felt a connection to the person, as if he had been allowed to be guest in their life, to share in those precious moments of intimacy.

He loved that feeling. A lifetime of solitude and running had kept him distant from everyone, beginning with his dad. A drunk and absent father, he'd never shown the slightest interest in him. Mom had died when he was young, so it had been just the two of them. And Lucas craved a connection with his dad- but he never got it. Growing up, he didn't have friends either and had began self-medicating just like dad. Soon, he had graduated to the harder stuff, craving the oblivion and emptiness it offered. He'd become so desperate that he'd even starting selling himself to get the money he needed for his fix. When dad found out- in a rage that seemed uncharacteristic after years of not caring- he'd thrown him out. He'd lived on the streets the next couple years, doing whatever and whomever he could for a chance to escape.

In the end, he was laying cold in an alley, face pallid and body weak, the chill of new winter just beginning, when Valentin found him and took him home. At first, Lucas had thought he'd found a sugar daddy and a way to pay for his drugs. But Valentin was not like that. Valentin helped him sober up and find himself. He'd saved his life, had given him a life really. After all those years, Lucas felt what it was like to have a father who cared and it had set him free. His life the past three years had been a hard fight, but it was worth it. Now, he was an art student and also owned this tattoo shop.

And each person that came in for a tattoo that meant something was someone he connected with. He looked the woman older. She was hard, closed off, private. The way she held herself said that too him. But the eyes, they said something else. He had seen that look in the mirror for years, the empty and desperately lonely look of a person who had no one to care for them. It didn't hurt that she was very pretty in a predatory sort of way. But he was drawn to desperate pain and loneliness. When he saw that look in person's eyes, it became his focus to help them, to connect with them, to show them what Valentin had shown him. There were people who cared.

So what did she want? What did she need? She had a tattoo she wanted to keep, but embellish upon. It was hard to alter existing work- at least to alter it and expand on it when you didn't know what it meant. "Okay. add to this, I need to know what this is. What does it mean to you? Why did you get it?"
He frowned at her, looking at her. He hoped she understood. Or if she understood, he hoped she'd tell him. It was the difference between suggestions that would mean something and just something random. "Is it something you are rejecting now or has it come to have added meaning for you?"

Aria frowned. "I had no choice in the matter."
Aria knew that wasn't going to cut it. She knew he'd keep trying for more. His frown spoke volumes and Aria could feel the disappointment. "It's something of a right of passage. You only get it if you are worthy."
She sighed. "It's WHO I am now."
She may doubt her cause, but that's all she was, she was only Atharim.

He was not really surprised at her short answer. People often needed prodding or time to feel comfortable with their artist. This was a collaboration, though they didn't always realize it. And finding a piece for her, to add to the existing one, was going to be a project.

"So you've embraced something that was forced on you. Are you happy with that?"
That wasn't really what he wanted to ask her. Or at least not that way. She lived in pain and loneliness. Part of that had to be the life that this knotted snake represented. He wanted to know if she wanted more than that, more than just being what she was.

"Here, let me show you something.
He took his shirt off, heedless of the chill in the shop. Living on the streets had inured him to the cold. A serpentine dragon, in the Asian style, rounded his arm- sharp talons on his bicep- over his shoulder and onto his chest, the head in the center of his chest, another talon just above his heart. Black, gold, blue, red and silver colored the tattoo, making a vivid beast that usually lay nestled and hidden in his bosom. "This took three sessions and hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. But it was therapy. I had left a terrible life and been reborn. This is my heart, my soul. It is hidden to most people. The only ones who see it are those I open up to. I rejected my past life and embraced a new one of openness and trust."
He touched the forehead of the creature in the center of his chest while looking at her. "Being open to people means risking getting hurt. He guards my heart and protects me. As long as I know it's there, I'm ok with taking the risk. It's what I've chosen to become."
He narrowed his eyes at her, searching hers for a clue as to what she wanted. "I can find something to enhance this, to say that you have embraced it. But is that all that you want, what this represents?"

Aria took objection to being forced upon her. "It wasn't forced on me. I accepted it."
The anger fled as he took off his shirt. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. She pushed all emotion away inside the bubble, except him. Aria could feel the do-good nature, he wanted to help. And inside, Aria knew she needed it. The pain that had come from the tattoo had to have been intense, Aria wanted to touch but she kept her hands at her side. To feel the pain, like she had with the manuscript, the need was almost too great.

His words cut deeply, he spoke as if he knew her. She felt the pain of the memories and the strength in his words. It was pride he'd made it through. Aria smiled, though it was faint. She wasn't exactly sure what to say. She didn't know him. But how much had she actually known Dane. The thought of his name brought back the memories. The pain, the suffering she'd inflicted up on that reporter.

Aria bit her bottom lip in concentration. She wasn't sure what to say anymore than before. "I've not embraced anything. It just is who I am."
She sighed. "There is a struggle between who I am, and what I can be."
Aria didn't look up at him, she stared at the wall in front of her. She gave a curt laugh. "Almost like good and evil fighting inside. At least that's how it feels."
It was exactly that, the light and the darkness fighting inside. The pull of the Atharim, versus the totality of the human race, gifts and all, everything pulling at her in so many directions. Something would win in the end, but Aria had no idea which way the cards would fall.

He turned at looked at her. She stared at the wall. So she was torn in two directions. He knew that feeling. It hadn't been good and evil in his case. It was more mundane. But he knew it all the same, the struggle and fight for mastery of himself and his cravings. He watched her steadily refuse to look at him. He didn't put his shirt on. He wanted her to see him like this, open and exposed and unafraid.

"The darkness is easy. It calls and all we have to do is give in to whatever it asks. It demands no sacrifice on our part. It calls us to do whatever we want and fuck the consequences to others."
He meant to be crude in his language. He wanted to shock her with it's coarse and uncaring nature.

"The light makes us fight. It beckons us to a destination."
He watched her for her reaction. His own struggles were in his mind now, the two years of fighting to get control of his hunger, to recreate himself. "We struggle and fight. Sometimes we fall and people are hurt. Sometimes it's too hard and we want to give up."
He reached his hand out and touched her arm. "But as long as we never give up fighting, clawing our way out of the darkness, we have not lost.
He walked around to stand in front of her. "Don't give up."
He looked into her green eyes, seeing all that pain. It drew him, the hunger to remove it, to help her. He touched her cheek. It was an intimate and forward thing to do. He couldn't care less. The Dragon guarded him. "I know what to do. Do you trust me?"
He spoke of darkness and the memories that hung on a thread just out of reach dangled in front of her again. Aria tried to fight the tears, but they fell anyway. Aria took comfort in his words, his strength of character. She didn't know what he'd been through, but he had gotten through.

Lucas touched her arm and Aria fought the urge to pull away. She could feel more of his strength now that he was touching her and his struggles just below the surface. He stepped between her and the wall and she closed her eyes. Fear, she didn't want him to see her cry. He puts his hand on her cheek and she could feel the warmth of his hand on her cheek. The tears fell, but she didn't make a sound. She couldn't do more than nod, she didn't trust her voice. She didn't exactly know why but she really did trust him.

As he stood in front of her, her eyes closed and she was still, as if bracing herself. And when he touched her cheek, tears began to leak from her eyes. And in that moment, all the strength that he'd head surged into him, every inclination, every urge, every desire to grant her strength. It overpowered him and he stepped forward to enfold her in his arms gently. He willed every ounce of strength and vitality to her, all the sense of worth and purpose and peace he'd acquired he tried to give her with his arms and his hands and his chest and his voice.

Stroking her hair gently he whispered "It's ok, it's ok. Let it out."
It was all he had for her. It would not solve her problems or make them go away. But it wasn't nothing either. He remembered the day Valentin had done the same for him, had helped him begin to feel wanted and worthy. It was the beginning of his creation of himself into the man that he was now.

The others in the shop didn't matter. People needed what they needed. There was no shame in needing another person or their support. He'd learned that long ago. So he held her to him. It was her choice whether to accept his gift or not. But he was here for her.

Aria gasped when he wrapped his arms around her. Her cheek touched the tattoo on his chest and she could feel every needle that had drawn the tattoo. She swallowed, but it didn't make the pain stop. It overwhelmed her. She could barely feel what he was trying to do. He didn't know.

She stood stiffly in his arms trying to fight the pain and focus on everything else, but the pain was winning. Aria clutched her fingers together, her nails biting into her palms. She couldn't take it anymore, she put her hand on Lucas' chest.

That had been far more a mistake than letting him be. She sank to her knees and curled into a ball, or she could have if he hadn't been holding her so tightly. It took every ounce of her own strength to regain her footing and focusing on his to push him away. She looked up at him with pain in her eyes. She didn't push him far away, but enough that she wasn't touching his skin. She pleaded. "Please don't touch me."

Aria pulled away from his arms and took her gloves from her coat pocket and put them on. She tried to smile reassuringly at him. But the tears still fell, but now for more than one reason, she didn't like hurting him. Aria put a hand on his chest and one around his neck and whispered in his ear. She would tell him, but she wouldn't tell the world. "I feel everything. I feel the pain of the needle for your customer over there. I feel your co-worker's jealousy. I feel your strength, your concern, your struggle. When you touched me, I felt the past pain of your tattoo. I felt your struggles as if they were my own. It hurt, but it was so much more than that. I wasn't ready. Too much contact overwhelms my control."
Aria wrapped her arms around him and put her check against the only part of his chest that didn't have a tattoo. She held him tightly, and the tears fell. It was the first and only time in her entire life, that she had felt anything like this - nothing even came close.

She was shaking in his arms, trying to move. He felt her legs go weak and he tightened his embrace so she wouldn't fall. His heart melted at the pain that was overwhelming her. He wished he could give her his strength. She pushed away though, looking up at him pleadingly. "Please don't touch me."

He let go so she could move back. He felt bad. He hadn't meant intrude or force himself on her. It was hard, sometimes, trying to read what people needed, how he could help them. There was always the possibility that, like he had now, he'd overstep. He watched her put her gloves on, as if she was going to leave and he felt his heart sink. A woman with this much pain and struggle called out to him. He wanted to save her as he had been saved. If she wanted it.

She tried to smile at him it seemed, her tears still coming down her face. Then, strangely, she placed her gloved hand on his chest and pulled his head down to speak into his ear. He wasn't sure he could believe what she said. He'd never heard of such a thing, outside of science fiction stuff. But then, she put her arms around him and held onto him tightly, her cheek against his chest, just hold still, as if he was an anchor for her. All doubt fled from him. He'd worry about what she said later. He just held on to her, letting himself be what she needed.

He wasn't sure how long they stood, but he also didn't care. Her dark hair was against his cheek, her warm body against his. And he was her savior, at least for the moment, at least in just this one thing. He held her against him, peace and tranquility flowing through him. This is what he lived for.

The tears subsided, comfort was not something she felt often. Time passed, the customer under the needle had finished a while ago. Aria finally pulled away with a smile, drying the last of the tears from her cheek with the back of her hand. It was barely a whisper. "I'm sorry."

Aria glanced out the window. It was growing late, the sun was setting, as much as she'd like to stay she wanted to be home despite her neighbors before night feel, and she had to find her bearings. "I should get home."
She looked into his blue eyes and smiled. He had a very strange affect on her moods. It was strange that she felt better, she didn't want to go home and drown the world away. It was a good day.

However long it was, he held her, let her cling to him for whatever she needed. Finally, she stirred. Sergei had finished with the customer and he soon heard the bell of the door closing. Sergei looked at him and he nodded and pointed with his head to the back. Sergei left the room. Lucas knew he was getting his things and leaving. It was just him and this woman, this Aria. The name was sweet in his mind.

Finally, she pulled back and began to wipe the tears from her eyes. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen and he wanted to pull her back to him. But he didn't. It was her need that drove things. He would not push. He was there only to give to her, to help her. "I'm sorry,
she whispered. He smiled. People always did that, they were always embarrassed about showing their emotions. As if it were something shameful to be human and weak. He smiled at her reassuringly. "You don't have to be ashamed for being human. It's ok to need something from someone."
He gently tucked a stray hair behind her ear, looking into her emerald eyes. He did not feel lust for her. He felt compassion. He tried to fill his eyes and his voice with confidence in her. "It's alright. You'll be alright."

She looked at him and said she had to go. No. He shook his head. She didn't. He didn't want her to be alone. He gazed into her eyes. "Please don't. Stay, please."
He took her gloved hand in his, felt where it extended all the way up to her elbow. Gently, eyes on hers, he pulled the glove off, careful not to touch her. She said she could feel what he felt. He took all his feeling of wanting good for her, of wanting her to find peace and happiness, filled himself with his complete desire for her...for her...for her to be filled with joy and contentment, his caring for her, and he let his finger touch her skin.

He watched her eyes intently, trying to see what happened.

"It's alright. You'll be alright."
It was hard to believe that. Nothing was ever alright. Her life hung by a thread in so many different ways, one push in the wrong direction and life would be over.

Too many variables, too many people, the least of which was herself. She didn't believe his words, she mumbled softly to herself. "I'll survive.
And that's all she'd do, that's all she had ever done.

Lucas asked her to stay. She really should go, but she wanted to stay too. He looked her in the eyes and she couldn't help but stare back as his fingers ran up her hand and over her arm to the top of her glove. She could feel everything he was feeling, but when he touched her it became more real, more a part of her.

Never had anyone even remotely cared this much for her. Not even as a child could she remember anything other than the bond between teacher and student. There was never any love, much less any real care for her passed. And once she killed that boy, there was nothing, not even a pat on the back from Father Dimitri.

Aria wanted to stay even more now, but fear rode beneath the surface. She smiled and nodded she'd stay, but he needed to know everything. They were alone now. She smiled softly. "I'll stay, but if I stay you have to know."
There were no words that could describe it. Aria embraced the fear underneath and pulled both gloves off and tucked them in her back pocket. She looked up with the fear clear on her face. She touched his cheek and sent him the fear she felt. "Losing control, is not safe for you anymore than it is for me."
Aria took her hand away and pushed the fear away. She wanted to believe him, to believe what he said. But experience told her differently, it always was jaded.
Edited by Aria, Jul 26 2014, 04:13 PM.
He saw her eyes widen at his touch. They became distant, as if remembering. They were openings into her and though he could not see what she saw, he knew that he had entered her, that he had reached inside of her and gotten to her. He wondered if anyone had ever shown her love or kindness. A part of his heart twisted in anguish, remembering what it was like to feel alone and unconnected, to feel like you weren't good enough, that no one cared. It had been overwhelming. He saw that in her eyes. But he also saw her feel something for the first time. It was his care for her as a human being. But it was more than that. In her, he saw himself not so long ago. And he longed to give her what he had been given.

His heart lept at that connection. She smiled and nodded at his asking her to stay. but then she warned him about her staying. He wasn't sure what she meant but then she touched his cheek.

He was hiding behind the dumpster. It was cold and his heart was racing. That last jon had tried to choke him when he'd turned his back to him. The man was huge, his hands large and strong and he'd felt the air stopping in his throught, the bile in his stomach burning as it tried to push past the man's grip. Somehow, he'd broken free and had run. But he could still feel those hands around his neck, his breath coming loud and fast. Almost, he'd been killed.

He'd looked at his arms and saw the tracks that spelled out his addiction, the desperate craving thad had led him to this point. And fell to his knees and cried, quiet wracking sobs. Oh God, please! Help me please! He wanted to die. He was so alone, so afraid. The self-loathing nearly made him vomit. He cried and cried and-

her hand left his cheek and suddenly he was standing in from of Aria again, the tears in his eyes blurring her image. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and saw the fear and sorrow on her face. And he understood. She lived a solitary life out of fear, because of her...whatever it was. Her whole life probably. He remembered that feeling. But then he imagined adding a fear that you might hurt anyone you were close to.

It would be life in solitary confinement. It would be hell on earth, to drift through life, always looking in at others, feeling their joys and pains and knowing they were denied you, that you were not allowed to participate. he could well imagine the bleakness that would come over her, the anger and resentment and sorrow. It was a wonder she had not tried to kill herself. He would have.

Instead, she fought the war. She had been right. Good and evil struggling within her. And he wanted to help her. He wanted her to win. It might cost him- he now knew the costs. But he didn't care. He wanted to help her.

He summoned up all his peace, all his tenderness, his appreciation for life, for second-chances; his hopes and desires and every other good feeling he'd ever had; he filled himself with it and stepped forward to her, taking her face softly in his hands...

and he kissed her tenderly on the lips. It was not passion. It was not overture. It was not prelude to anything more. It was just his gift to her. Acceptance. Love. Kindness.

Aria didn't want to know what fears he had, she had plenty of her own. But the look in his eyes made Aria want to cry for him. She was sorry that she'd done it. But she didn't get a chance to say anything before he took her face in his hands and kissed her.

She had been kissed before, while the intensity had been nearly the same, it was for very different reasons. Aria didn't even want to think about what it meant with Dane, she pushed him as far from her as she could. Aria had never felt anything like this. It took her breath away. There was no way this day was going to get any better.

She'd started wandering the streets, looking for nothing imparticular, and found something that she never expected to find.

Aria pulled away, putting her forhead against his chest and kissed the dragon softly before looking up into his blue eyes. He brought a smile with a bare look to her lips. "And what do you propose we do with the new found time?
Everything from this moment forward was uncharted territory. He could not wield the power of the gods, she prayed, he could not. That would be too much, finally a soul who was normal, despite her lack of it. She didn't want to hurt him, she knew what would happen if the kissed turned into more. She didn't want to hurt him, it echoed in her head as a reminder, not that she'd forget, but she let it.

The kiss was beautiful, pure, devoid of anything but giving. When he finished, she was out of breath, but looking up at him. So beautiful. She was so beautiful and she needed him. She put her forehead agains his chest and then kissed him there. He smiled.

"And what do you propose we do with the new found time?
He laughed. Well, he could think of a few things. She probably could already feel it pressed against her. Well, he couldn't really help that. He was male after all. And she was beautiful.

But he knew that she was feeling emotional. If this was the first time she'd ever really felt connected to someone who cared about her, well, he couldn't take advantage of her like that. She needed someone who cared. While making love to her would certain show that, it would also complicate things. It could cause her to doubt that he really did care. And despite his own desires, he really did. He wanted this to remain something she could trust and depend on. In many ways, it would have been the same if she was drunk and lonely. And he didn't do that.

He stepped away from her, still smiling, and grabbed his shirt. The tightness in his groin would die down. In the mean time, they did have time. "We can talk. Have you eaten?"
And idea hit him. "Actually, I have an idea for your peace, if you want to see it....Now that I know you."
It seemed a foolish thing to say. He knew her name, but that was it. "We'll figure something out. But stay with me?"

Aria nodded. She would stay with him. She'd felt happiness from others, but not truly for herself. But it was so much more than just that. It was safer to be with Lucas than to go home. But that was just as frightening - going from one extreme to the next with little coping time in between. But the hunger was not there. She didn't want to hurt him. It couldn't be that easy, but she would stay, for now. She'd have to leave, have to go back to her job. Back to the darkness, back into the night to hunt.

"I would like to see it."
Food sounded fabulous, her stomach rumbled in protest. She didn't remember when the last time she'd eaten was. It had to have been earlier that morning. Aria smiled. "Apparently my stomach disagrees and requests food. We could do both?"

He laughed at her response. He got the impression she smiled very rarely, much less joked. And now she was doing both with him. He was satisfied. He hadn't fixed her. He couldn't do that. But they'd started a friendship. He could be there for her. She could trust him.

He got a pad and an pencil and then walked throughout the shop turning off lights. "You like Greek? There's a nice little place around the corner. We can eat while I show you my idea."

He went to the door and opened it, watching her. She was wreathed in shadows, the light from the street only illuminating parts of the shop. "Sound good?"

It had gotten darker than Aria had thought it was timewise. She didn't want to check her wallet, she didn't have any place else to be. It wasn't the time itself, it was the fact that she'd lost track of it so easily. It was disorienting.

Aria didn't have a preference for food. You ate what you were given when she lived with in the headquarters. Now on her own she regularly forgot to eat. Food was what nurished the body it didn't have to taste good, or so that was the way of it most of her life. "Sounds fine."
She smiled at him and hope he'd not be able to read her thoughts by looking at her. It all made Aria wonder what he'd gone through, why he could see through her and read her. He was just human, and for that she was eternally grateful.

Aria grabbed her coat from the rack and took the gloves from her pockets and shrugged on the black leather that had hid her weapons and herself coming in, going out, it only covered her weapons and kept her warm. She didn't want to hide with Lucas. At least not right now. He could ask her anything and she'd probably tell him the truth. But she hoped he wouldn't, there were things she didn't want anyone to know. Not a soul knew, she prayed, except Dane, and he was as unlikely to tell as she, or so she hoped.

She wasn't picky about food , anything would be fine so long as her stomach stopped rumbling, but did she trusted him? Aria doubted herself. She took a deep breath and convinced herself she trusted him! "I'll be honest, never had Greek food. No idea what is good."

"You've never had Greek food? Well get ready to live."
He smiled at her as she passed by him out the door. What he said lingered in the air. She really hadn't lived, not really. And he felt like he wanted to show her all the good things there were. He wasn't sure how much of it was possible for her- both because of her 'gift' as well as whatever it was that required that she carry around a sword. He'd seen it, but wasn't really sure how to broach the subject.

In any case, tonight was about giving her the sense of possibility, of showing her the good things life had to offer even her. It was about giving her hope and a reason to do more than survive. He thought of her words again about her struggle. It was about giving her the strength to keep fighting. "Stavros' place is good. It's not fancy or anything. Just a lot of love and a lot of flavor."
He offered her his hand, hoping she'd take it.

The walked the block or two before they came to the place. It was older, Stavros being the family name. Their grandson Costa ran the place now with his wife and daughters. They walked in to the smells of lamb and and beef being braised, the hisses and sizzles adding a smokiness to the air, voices yelling back and forth in the kitchen, and the clink of plates and glasses. It was pretty clean, though Lucas really didn't notice such things, not since his days on the street. If the place was too bad, someone would have shut it down. The food was always good and the customers were loyal.

Costa was at the front counter when he spotted them. Smiling he said loudly, "Ahh, Lucas! Good to see you. And you brought a girl this time."
He looked at Aria and smiled at her. "Pretty too. So what will you have?"

Lucas looked at Aria with a knowing grin. "Since you said you never had Greek, I'll get a bunch of stuff for you to try, ok?"
At her nod, he turned to Costa. "Ok, so...let's see. Let me get a gyro, umm, some tiropites. Oh, pastitsio. And your moussaka. And I guess some baklava for dessert."
He turned to Aria and smiled, looking her up and down exaggeratedly. "Sounds like a good snack, huh?"
He laughed a bit. "No, just eat what you want. Since this is your first time, you get to try a lot of different things. Consider it your first meal of your new life."

He smiled at her. He hoped she liked the food.
Lucas had a tendancy to make her smile, it really didn't matter what he said, just being with him seemed to do it. He offered his hand and Aria tucked her gloves in her coat pocket and took it. She didn't pull on his emotions, but she could still feel everything he felt. But Aria had to be careful, she knew what touching Dane did, how he reacted each time she touched him. She didn't want that. She never knew what he felt, cause he pretty much didn't care about much at all. Aria frowned at herself and pushed thoughts of Dane away. Why did everything come down to that? He'd left, she'd seen the record of his departure pop up in the database.

Aria focused on Lucas. Only on him. The rest of the world be damned right now. The owner was at the counter, he knew Lucas by name, which meant he was a regular. Aria blushed at his words and nodded to Lucas' question. It really didn't matter.

A new life? Was that really what this was? She could only wish that he spoke the truth. One day of happiness didn't make the world change. Didn't change the fact that she still had a suicide mission to run, a fanatic for a boss and a prick for a handler. Not to mention the fact that there were gods running around Moscow that could and probably should be put down. Granted she'd not met any, except maybe one - but she pushed Dane from her thoughts. If Dane were to die, so was she. The only evidence she had of his violence was that he was there with her, when SHE killed that woman, blew up the building killing two more and ending the life of a Privledge's bodyguard. And that was all one day. A new life, just another day to make the world seem like a good place to be. Though she did like being with Lucas. He was nice and funny and for some strange reason actually cared about her. He didn't even know her.

They took a table and waited for their food to arrive. Booths were always annoying with her sword. But she didn't want to take it off in a public place - too many people would freak out. Aria sat down carefully opposite of Lucas. She had no idea what to say, or what to do. Eating a meal with someone was not a common occurance. It was usually just a quick lunch alone. Being around people for any period of time made her uncomfortable. It use to be fear that kept her away, now it wasn't that, but she still didn't like being in a crowd. Three people was a crowd somedays, depended on who was there. Aria tried not to be uncomfortable but years of discomfort were hard to break.

They sat down, waiting for the food. Aria was quiet. He got the impression she was always quiet. It made sense. He didn't know her age. Maybe a few years older than him. He laughed at that. She was older than him. So why did he feel protective of her. She seemed like a child the way she held herself, the way she shied away from people. The restaurant wasn't crowded with only a few couples eating and the staff. Then again, given her abilities, maybe that was too much. His dark eyebrows furrowed. He should've gotten everything to go. She needed this in stages. "Be right back."
He went to the counter and asked Costa to make everything to go. The meal was just about done- the meat had been turning on spits, the pastries and casseroles and bread all done earlier. It was a family kitchen- not that he'd known what that was growing up, but still- and food was ready for you pretty much as soon as you showed up. Bags in hand he went back to table and touched Aria's shoulder. "Come on. Let's go somewhere quiet. Oh, can you get my pad for me?"

She rose and they left, Costas calling out his goodbyes. The streets were quiet and cold, their breaths feathering their faces. Lucas was content to let it be quiet for a while. He really wasn't sure how her abilities worked or what toll they took. Maybe she needed to recharge or something. When they got back to the shop he said, "Sorry. I didn't think about the crowd. We can eat here where it is quiet. Alright?"

Lucas left the table and Aria felt alone. Which in and of itself was not unusual, but it stung more than she'd have liked. She didn't watch him walk away, blushing at noticing was not something she wanted to do. Its not like the desire wasn't there. She remember their kiss and knew all too well what he thought. Which made Aria feel like a tease, not that she had ever had the feeling before. But it was far too dangerous. He was just human, he couldn't keep himself safe and Aria knew she couldn't do it. Her control wasn't that good. Someday? Someday!

Aria felt his hand on her shoulder beckoning her to go. And asking after his sketch pad. She grabbed his things and they left. The short walk was quiet. They really didn't have to leave. Not because of her anyway. "We didn't have to leave. I would have been alright. Crowds aren't great, but that wasn't really what was the problem."
She smiled up at him. "The most communal meals I ever had were at mass."
Which wasn't a meal, it was mass. But that was the extend of her dining with others.

Aria looked into the window of the shop and frowned. It wasn't comfortable, pain lingered in the shop, she could feel the small pangs of Lucas' customer's pain. If it had been a carnavil, and the kids having fun, she'd probably not have noticed the lingering emotions. But pain. She knew it, it drew here in. Aria looked up at Lucas. "Staying her after dark is probably not a good thing."
Aria looked around and got her bearings and smiled. "My place isn't too far away. I can't say my neighbors won't make it any less uncomfortable but it's home and quiet enough."
Aria prayed her neighbors weren't even home. Anything they could emote downstairs would not be good.

She spoke and mentioned that they hadn't had to leave. He shrugged. It was just as easy to leave as to stay. She talked about mass. He tilted his head to look at her. He she lived in a convent, cloistered away from people? Was she part of some secret part of the church? It would explain the tattoo and how she said she got it. And the gun and sword. He was curious. But he didn't want to ask her. He wanted her to feel comfortable, at peace. He was religious too. It had been one of the only things, growing up, that had given him some semblence of hope. Of course, he'd also railed at God and asked why he had been forced to endure what he had. His confessions, especially when he lived on the streets, were painful. But he did them. He hoped God understood that he'd wanted to do what was right, he wanted to be free. But the gnawing pain and emptiness called him down that path again and again. He remembered waking up after coming down, the dirty emptiness of it all, the vapid illusoriness.

He'd wander into the church, its high doors and vaulted ceilings making him feel small as he enters God's presence. But along the walls were statues of saints and they seemed to urge him on, to tell him that it was ok to approach the throne. And he craved to be clean. More than that, he'd craved love and acceptance.

She suggested they go to her place. A part of him felt his typical male reaction but he pushed that away. Aria wasn't like other girls. And he wasn't going to take advantage of her. As they walked, he asked, "Mass, huh? I go to mass pretty regularly. I need it. And my AA meetings are held at the church too."
He thought again about how alone she had to be, how alone he'd been until God had sent Valentin. "You know God loves you Aria. Even if we've done wrong, he loves us and is willing to forgive us."
He snorted, remembering how low he'd sunk. "Trust me, I know. He is with you Aria, watching you and wanting you to beat this darkness or whatever it is. You can do it. He believes in you."
They stopped in front of a building and he assumed that they were at her place. He looked down at her, hoping she could feel how earnest he was. "I believe in you too. So hold on to that, have faith that he loves you and believes in you. It will help you when you need it most."
Aria felt guilty, she hadn't been to mass or confession since she'd come to Moscow. It was a regular thing in Vatican City, was something she couldn't get out of even if she had wanted to. Father Dimitri would have had her head if she didn't attend mass every week. Confession was a bit more personal within the Atharim, Father Dimitri had always heard her confessions. Can't exactly go to a regular priest and say, 'I took the life of a wolfkin, he wasn't mad, but he was wolfkin.' Not that she'd taken the life of any of the humanoid monsters. But still a regular preist probably would have polietly thought you were crazy and just said his normal speil.

"I've not gone to mass or confession since leaving Vatican City."
Aria took them around the corner to the side entrance and took the stairs while scanning for her neighbors, they didn't appear to be home. "Mostly because I forget what day of the week it is. And there's no one here to remind me to go."
Once she got to her door she took the key out of her pocket and unlocked the door. "When I was there, life was very different."
Aria opened the door and walked into the studio apartment.

"Make yourself at home."
She'd been in the apartment for months, but there was very little in the way of personalization. Books were scattered across the coffee table that sat in front of the couch, books Lucas' probably shouldn't see. Oh well. If he stuck around her long enough, he was going to find out about so much more than what was in those books.

Aria's first sword, that had lost it's mate her first mission out hung on the wall with the second holstered gun by the door over the coat rack.

Aria hung her coat up on the rack under her weapons and took the weapon belt off. She knew he wanted to say something, she could feel his curiousity. He'd not said anything probably out of politeness. As long as he didn't ask her if she'd killed anyone, it really didn't matter what he'd asked. "I know you are dying to ask."
She smiled up at him. "So ask. Ask anything and I'll try to answer."
She hoped she could find a truthful answer that he'd actually beleive. But there was plenty of 'proof' lying on the coffee table, some even in her own hand.

Aria's apartment was what he expected. Lonely. Empty. Sad. She had another sword hanging on the wall, along with another gun. Books were scattered everywhere. It surprised him. He never read much growing up, but when he did, they were all electronic. Why she used actual books seemed odd. The few he could see were larger than what he expected, the covers thick, the pages yellowed and not all cut exactly on the same edge. One was open and showed what looked like hand-drawings of monsters or something. There were no pictures on the walls, no indicators that a human with needs and hungers lived here. Rather, just a person with a job.

This was the home of a woman who had no life. His heart ached for her. She was maybe 30 years old. 30 years living like this, unloved, uncared for, unknown. She told him to make himself at home so he went and sat on the couch, watching her as she removed her coat and weapons. He wasn't sure what to make of her. He was curious of course, but not about her weapons or job. Evidently she picked up on his curiosity but not the cause because she offered to answer anything he wanted to know.

He looked at her for a moment and then gave her a smile. "Come here and sit with me."
When she did, he looked at her, watching her. He wondered what she was thinking, what it would be like to touch her and know what she was feeling. People were all so closed off to each other, relying to words and actions to really connect with people, to know their hearts. And this woman had a gift that allowed her to do that. And yet the life she lived was the opposite of that. She was scared and hid, closed herself off, unable to trust anyone. It made him angry that people could do that to her, could scar a little girl so that this sad and lonely woman was the result. His own father had done that to him and it was only later that he'd understood the enormity of that crime, the callous cruelty and disregard. But all it took was one person to make a difference. Valentin hadn't know him. It was a risk, one that Lucas had wondered about ever since. How could he take such a chance, to work and suffer to help rescue him. To this day, he didn't know the answer. He didn't know what Valentin had seen in him. In the end, it didn't matter. It had worked.

Now, he wanted to make that difference for her. He took her hand, his skin on hers, hoping she'd feel what he was about to say. Then, "I just want to know you. And to let you know me. If you get afraid or need a place to hide, use me, use my emotions, my strength, my peace, whatever you need. Let me be for you what someone once was to me. Let me help you find peace Aria."

It was, perhaps, a forward proclamation to make, a strange offer. He laughed at his insistance. He should step back and let her figure out what she wanted. "And I also want to eat. I think you mentioned eating"
He smiled at her and winked. "At least I heard your stomach chime in, back at the shop."
He let go and began to remove the food. "So let's eat too. I hope you like it."
He got out the foil wrapped gyros, the juices and tzatziki sauce oozing out the bottom. "Here, try this first."

Lucas made himself at home. He sat down on her couch and when she was done getting 'comfortable' he told her to come sit with him. Aria did as he asked, but she closed the books on the table and made a neat pile and pushed them off to one side before she sat down next to Lucas, close enough that she could feel the heat from his leg.

He didn't exactly ask a question, there wasn't much to her, not really. She wasn't exactly sure what to make of holding his hand, but she wasn't about to let go either. She liked touching him, probably a bit too much for either of their well-being. This day was proving far more intesting and far more emotional than she was used to. He made her feel like no other. He wanted to know her, that was music to her soul. Uncharted territory but something she'd longed for, something that she had thought she had found. But it was a poor imitation of what Lucas offered.

Aria's stomach rumbled again at the mention of food, it did smell good and the first bite was interesting. She wasn't too sure on the texture of the meat, but it was good none-the-less.

Eating didn't lend to talking well, but it was a conversation and he said he wanted to know her. There wasn't much to her, work, her abilities, beyond that she had done very little in life. She smiled, wiping the juice from her chin. "You know it goes both ways if I want it to."
Aria turned to look at him. "I made you feel my fear, how it translated to you I don't know, it's never the same, at least not that I've found. It's fear none-the-less. I can show you what I feel, personally. Or I can give you the emotions from my memories, or from those around me."
Aria grinned. "The shop keep downstairs, he's reprimanding the clean up clerk he hired a while back. He's angry, the clerk is ashamed. Thankfully the couple upstairs isn't home. They either are angry or putting rabbits to shame."
Aria took another bite, still wasn't sure about the texture but she'd eat it anyway. It at least tasted better than most her meals as of late.

The gyro was good, of course. But enjoyed watching her eat it, imagining what it was like a first time. And he listened. While she talked he got out the other food, explaining what each was, the savory and spicy mousakka, the cheesy tiropites, and the creamy pastitsio. He was saving the light flakey honey-drenched baklava for after. He realized, as they both ate, that they had nothing to drink. He should have thought of that. A Santorini would have gone well with everything.

As they ate, she explained her abilities and he listened. "You know it goes both ways if I want it to."
His eyebrows went up. Now that was interesting. Especially as she explained how she was able to send him those feelings earlier. He smiled when she mentioned the shop keep and laugh out loud when she talked about the couple upstairs. His eyes crinkled and a wicked grin appeared on his face. "Yeah, better than you don't send me any of those feelings. I'm sure you noticed back at the shop, but you would have no problem geting me going with you. Those last feelings of fear you sent were overwhelming. Probably not a good idea to get me all worked up with that."

He let his smile fade. "But maybe we could start with something small."
He looked from her to the table filled with all the foods she still had to try. "How about you let me feel what it's like for you to try some of this. Half the fun of sharing new stuff with peope is imagining the experience through fresh eyes."
He smiled. He was liking the idea. It sounded fun. "Ok? what you do. Send me what you are feeling and then try some of this...Try the tiropites first."

He waited to see if she would do it.

Aria blushed at his comment and bit her bottom lip. She wasn't going to comment it but pretty sure from her reaction he knew what she felt. She took deep breath to calm her ownself. Small? There really was nothing small about what she did. But it was good practice. Not sending what she didn't want.

The tiropites, they looked interesting anyway. She smiled at Lucas and took his hand. It was hard to send him anything when it didn't exist yet. It was like the classic question what came first the chicken or the egg. Aria closed her eyes and took the first bite, was easier to do without Lucas watching. She felt like the pet at the zoo preforming on command. The thought almost made her lose interest, but she was sharing. No one really ever cared to ask before. But then again until recently she didn't even know she could do it.

The pastry was flaky and buttery. It nearly melted in her mouth. With the amount of different cheeses on the inside it was a good thing she wasn't lactose intolerant. It was good, she enjoyed it much better than the gyro.

She opened her eyes, and blushed, the thought of him intent on her made her nervous. She smiled at him, but she couldn't get the prior thoughts out of her head. She thanked God that they were not home. That would have been very difficult to deal with.

She knew she'd sent the feelings to him the moment she pushed them away. It was far more difficult keeping her own thoughts on one thing.

Hoping to change the 'topic' Aria tried the moussaka. The first bite, came right back out into her hand. Eggplant. Ugh, she didn't even like it when she ate at headquarters when she was little, those days she'd go without just so she didn't have to eat it. "Sorry. No Eggplant."

It was a strange sensation. He could feel what she was feeling- hesitant, fearful, but also a bit excited, thrilled. This was new to her, this sensation of sharing, or showing herself emotionally. It was new to him too, at least at this level. It occurred to him that this was what sex often was about, making someone feel, or at least imagine they felt, someone else, their emotions. It was about connection. And he had it with Aria just by the touch of her hand.

She liked the tiropites. The sensations from her were strangely intoxicating. She was purposefully allowing herself to enjoy her food- the textures and smells and tastes- and it was all overlaid with her emotional fears and excitement. While he couldn't taste the food himself, he could sense her enjoyment. He wondered if they would taste different to him too.

Suddenly he felt a jolt of warmth hit him as her eyes opened to see him watching her. His mind reeled for a moment, overwhelmed with her. At moment, it would have been so easy to pull her to him and kiss her. But he resisted the urge and it disappeared in a moment. It might have been an accident. Her eyes said it was. She tried the moussaka and her disgust at the taste and texture of eggplant made him laugh out loud. "I'm sorry. I should have warned you . Not everyone likes eggplant."
He gave her a grin. "Call it an acquired taste that you haven't acquired yet."

On it went through the rest and he enjoyed it immensly as she nibbled at this or that. Her reaction to the baklava was the one he'd been most curious of and he was pleased at how much she'd liked it. Overlaying it was a feeling of how special sweet treats were, as if growing up she'd only ever had them rarely. He sensed her excitement at the recognition of honey, the wonder at the flakiness, the surprise at the nuts. The over all impression was one of real enjoyment at it, how special it was. And he felt sadness at that, that her life had been a journey with only a few points of enjoyment on the way. It was why it was his favorite as well.

When they were done, he looked at her. "That was the most interesting experience I have ever had., seeing through your eyes. I want to do it again, but I better not- at least not now. It would be too easy to get lost in you."
He sat back and watched her. "I know you better now I think. I can't imagine losing yourself in other people's emotions and experiences growing up was easy. I wish you hadn't experience that."
He remembered something she said. "You grew up in Vatican City? When did you realize you were special?"

"I've had eggplant most of my life, I don't think I'll ever gain that taste. I went without food the days that was on the menu."
Aria was thankful she didn't remember too many times, but she was sure they did it on purpose a time or two several days in a row as punishment. They probably called it a learning experience, but it was still not allowing a child to eat for days on end. It wasn't a good childhood, but it was all she had.

Aria tasted everything else, it was all good. The dessert was by far her favorite. There was very little in way of sweets as a child. Not even honey for tea most days. Things like that were meant for the privledged. Aria was not privledged, she was a ward of the city by all standards. She should have been in an oraphange if it weren't for her birth right, and the fact that her mother was Furia. If she'd just been a child the Atharim had saved, she would probably have had a better life in the orphanage ran by the church. But she was not. She was a child of the Atharim. She was born and raised to be nothing more than a weapon to use in their name.

Getting lost in her? She could easily get lost in him. His bright blue eyes, the tattoo across his chest. She wanted to know what he feared, wanted to feel his pain. Aria pushed those thoughts away, the darkness was trying to push it's way in. Aria knew that she'd put herself through the ringer lately. She could feel the tiredness in her bones. She'd been up too long. Sleep might actually be peaceful or once.

Aria closed her eyes when he asked about her specialness. She had just run through the very thoughts herself. "I grew up as a ward of the church. I trained with in its walls until they saw fit to send me here. But special? They probably should have saw I was special when I was five. My first day walking the streets outside the Vatican. The streets were crowded with people looking for answers from God. They weren't refugees necessarily. But they were there seeking guidance after the catastrophies that ravaged the world then. I felt everyone there, so many people. It hurts just to think about it, their pain and anguish. Their fear.
The thoughts putlled her closer to what she wanted to avoid. It all came back to the pain and fear and her hatred of the world itself. Aria sighed. " That's when my training really began. Night and day I worked toward one end, and it was the only thing until I met a boy, and then everything changed."

Aria leaned back against the couch and curled her knees to her chest. She put her forehead on her knees and took a deep breath. Aria's first urge was to embrace the bubble that she'd done for all her life, but she stayed it. Looked up and took Lucas' hand and just held it. His strength.

Aria stared at the far wall. "He was a good person. We were close, and then it became more. The first kiss. I passed out from the lose of control. His pain, and my pain. I was told that he was fine, but he never wanted to see me again. That was when things changed for the worse. I had only few set of instructors, ones who could control their emotions."
Aria turned an looked at him in warning, but not really at him, mostly at the world. "Which is far more annoying that just being yourself. There was no touching, no pats on the back, I spent 14 years in near isolation. Only going out of the City when I was called to go, when there was need of my particular skill set."
Aria looked away. "A little while ago, I found out what really happened that day.
Aria squeezed his hand and took a deep breath. She really was going to say this out loud. " The boy had died. My power overwhelmed him. His heart stopped beating because of the strain. He was a good person."
She took his hand as she talked. Her voice was soft as she talked and his heart went out to her. Life just wasn't fair. He'd learned from Valentin that he had been worthy of love, that he was of value. The lesson had come late in life. A memory came to him. He was sitting at the table in the kitchen, Valentin across from him, trying to talk to him. He had been jonesing really bad, hurting and wanting a hit. Valentin was trying to tell him that he could do it, that he didn't need the drugs. Lucas just wanted to curl up and die. Valentin didn't understand, he couldn't. He put his head down on the table and the tears leaked out. He felt so alone. And then he felt Valentin's hand on the back of his head. It didn't move, it was just there, as if to say that he was with him, that he cared.

Lucas had never been touched before, not like that. His dad had never touched him. He couldn't care less about him. And all the people he sold himself to touched him only to get what they wanted. But this man, he wanted nothing but good for Lucas. He cared. For the first time in his life, Lucas felt connected to another human being. He started crying. It wasn't for the pain of withdrawal. He cried because of everything good that he'd missed in his life, that no one, not one person, had ever showed him that he mattered, that he was important. It was so very wrong. He had been dead inside until Valentin had brought him to life, had taught him his self worth. Now, he knew he was worthy, that he mattered. That feeling had been like a safety line as he fought his addictions and finally got free. It was what he clung to when feelings of worthlessness overwhelmed him, of rage at the world. It gave him peace.

To see Aria and know that she'd been through that- but worse, since she could feel everything others did- their fears and their loneliness and disinterest in her- his heart broke for her. She still held his hand. She'd killed that boy. The thought made him sad. And he felt anger at those who would tell her he wanted nothing to do with her. Poor girl he thought, imagining her as a 16 year old. He leaned forward until he was closer, until he was only inches from her. He took her hand in both of his and held it to his chest. "Can you feel it? Can you feel what I feel? Can you take my strength? My peace?"
He nodded to her. "Go ahead. Take it. It's what you need right?"
He smiled at her, willing her to do this, the use him for her own strength. "I trust you,
he said simply. And he watched her green eyes, hoping to see something. He wanted her to live.

Aria felt his thoughts change as she spoke, his memories, his thoughts brought him pain and underneath it all understanding of what she was going through, but most of it was lost underneath the pain. He said she could take his strength. But it didn't work that way. She could feel it. But it was just that his feelings. She could feed it back to him and make it feel stronger than it was, but it didn't really change her, she could get lost in him, and that would be that, she'd be lost. Like she was with Dane...

Aria shook her head. "I can't. It doesn't work that way, and it may be what I need. But it's not what I want."

Aria looked down at her knees, she didn't want him to see. "There is only a very thin cloth between me and your pain. If I pull anything from you to try to strength my own resolve, it'll be too strong. The hunger. The need to hurt."
Aria shook her head. "I've felt enough of your struggles, your pain to know I couldn't let go. I'd lose this..."
She tightened her grip on his hand and leaned against his chest, if he moved she'd fall over, but she didn't think he was going to. "I'd lose everything as of right now to it. I don't want that to happen. And I'd not only hurt myself, but I'd hurt you in the process. Don't trust me, not yet. I don't trust myself."

"I hurt a friend because he was in pain."
She looked up into his blue eyes and smiled. "I don't want to hurt you."

Lucas listened to her, saddened. He couldn't give her what she needed, couldn't just will it to her. He heard her words, her hunger for pain. It was disconcerting, of course, but he really had no idea what it was like to be her, to have her abilities. He wracked his mind, trying to think of something else, then.

He smiled, a thought coming to him. Valentin had no power, nor did he. In the end, what mattered was believing you were worth something, worthy of love and care. "Then do this Aria. Take what I feel for you, feel it to your bones, as much as you can without hurting me too much. Take it and know that you matter. You have always mattered. You just didn't know it. Those who should have told you, helped you to know it, didn't. The same happened to me for most of my life. But I was helped. I had to learn to believe it of myself, that people truly cared. But you can look in me and see that I am telling the truth. Hold on to that. Can you do that?"

She smiled up at him. He was trying, and he didn't have to try to be anything. "I don't have to take anything to know what you say."

Aria let go of his hand and moved away from him, but not too far, she didn't want to be alarming. "I don't have to touch you, or look at you to know that. I feel it from you. You radiate it. I know it's hard to understand. But I don't have to hurt you at all to know you care, that you are strength I can use. Just sitting next to you I know. I could be across the room and still feel the same thing."
Aria smiled. "I could leave my apartment. I could walk for blocks and still know."

Aria moved closer to him, and put her hands against his chest. "I don't want to do any of that. But I could."
Aria put her hand on his cheek and closed her eyes. Aria sent Lucas only a portion of what she felt from him. "I could echo your feelings into you and me until it was all there was. This is nothing compared to what I could do to you."
Aria stopped sending him his own feelings, it felt too quiet now, and put her other hand on the other side of his face. "I don't want to hurt you. I don't want you to let me. I will be weak. You have very powerful demons. You overcame them. But I haven't yet. I want to hurt you. I want to feel your pain. You can't let me. Not even a little."

Aria let go and sat back against the couch. "I had a relationship not to long ago. He was calm and quiet most of the time, emotionally. He helped me in too many ways. But he was the object of my obsession and I his. It didn't turn out to well. I wanted to hurt him. I didn't, but not for wanting to. There were others to hurt, less threatening objects of our affection."
Aria looked at Lucas and smiled. "This is not that. Whatever this is. Don't let me hurt you."

He listened to her words and felt warmth suffuse him as she described what she felt from him. He was glad to know that. He hoped she would anchor herself to him.

And then she touched his chest, his cheek, and suddenly he felt a sense of strength that felt familiar, but amplified. It was....odd. His feelings filtered through her and back to him. Echo, she said. He laughed inside as the thought of them having sex came to mind. What would that be like, if she was echoing their sensations back and forth? His mind flashed to the experience of feeling her sensations. He was becoming aroused and he definitely didn't need to be. He hoped that while she was sending she couldn't sense his feelings.

He took a breath and cleared his mind just as those feelings stopped coming from her. "I don't want to hurt you. I don't want you to let me. I will be weak. You have very powerful demons. You overcame them. But I haven't yet. I want to hurt you. I want to feel your pain. You can't let me. Not even a little."
The thought was like cold water in the face. This woman needed help, needed him. But he'd have to be careful. Not to avoid the pain. Or at least not just that. Instead, he didn't want her to fall, he didn't want her give up. He was a little frightened, to be honest. This wasn't playing around. This woman was on the cusp of a darkness he couldn't imagine. Was he strong enough for this? Could he do it?

He listened to her memories of another man. Codependent. Sick. He'd known that before in his life. People who were bad for you but gave you what you needed- or thought you needed. He'd had to learn that he didn't need that person. It was unhealthy. She needed to learn it. Again, fear shot through him. Others to hurt? His stomach turned at that, sorrow flooding him. Was she lost? Was she too far gone? Can I do this? Am I strong enough?

He clenched his teeth and took a shakey breath, listing to the last. "This is not that. Whatever this is. Don't let me hurt you."
She was being open with him. She was asking him to help her. He didn't fully understand the nature of her darkness. But the look on her face, the smile that was tremulous, that, to him at least, looked like it was covering up fear- fear of rejection maybe?- those eyes that looked into his, begging.

He stepped off the cliff. "Ok Aria. I will do this with you. But you have to be honest with me at all times. You have to tell me when the darkness is calling you, when you want to hurt or feel pain. You must not hide from me because that's the only way I can know to help you when you need it."
He breathed, the fear still there. But there was also a sense of decision. He hoped he was doing the right thing.

He took her head in his hands and kissed her gently on the forehead, then pulled her head to his chest. "I'll do everything I can to help you."
He was scared. But he needed to do this. He didn't want her to give up. The fear of that was worse.

After a moment he lifted her head and said, "You want to see the idea I had for your tattoo? I think it might help."

Aria felt everything Lucas did as she talked. Aria's heart swooned when his passion rose. It wasn't that she didn't want to, she did, probably too much so. But she knew better. He had no way of protecting himself from her. No way to cut her off. It was just as dangerous as the pain, getting lost in Lucas would be too easy.

His fear and doubts creept into Aria and her fear rose. She knew that it was alot. And he didn't even know the worst parts. She didn't blame him if he wanted to walk away. She probably would if she were in his shoes. Crazy was one way to put her...

But his words did not say what he was feeling. Honesty wasn't a problem. But how far did he want that to extend. Aria glanced at the books sitting on the table. "I can be completely honest with you. But how far does that go? There are things you shouldn't know. Things that could get you killed for just the hint that you know."
The reporter came to mind, she'd been unwilling to kill her at first. But then... Aria sighed. "I will tell you when things get rough. I can make that promise. And if you ask about the rest. I will tell you. But you have to ask."

He kissed her on the forehead and she wanted very much to just kiss him. She smiled as he tucked her against his chest. Knowing he wanted to was enough. "I know your afraid. So am I."

Lucas changed the subject. Back to their original conversation. She laughed softly. "Sure. But I think the table is a better venue for drawing."

Aria stood up and offered Lucas a hand. He took it softly and she lead him over to the table. The rickety table was barely better than hunching over the coffee table but at least it wasn't so low to be uncomfortable. He sat down and started to draw. Aria moved to the cubboard and grabbed two glass and filled them with water. It was all she had. But they hadn't had anything to drink with their dinner and talking so much, she needed a drink. That was probably the most talking about herself she'd ever done.

Aria stood by the sink for a while and watched Lucas draw. His comments and his feelings kept coming back to her. Aria took him the glass and set it down in front of him. "It's all I have."

She stood behind him and watched. Aria missed touching him. It wasn't about the pain, she missed feeling him like he was part of her. She could feel him. But she wanted to touch him. To be touched by him. That's how it started with Dane, she knew she had to be careful. Aria put her hand on his shoulder and tried not to jostle him too much. She wasn't really watching him draw anymore. She was aborbed in him. Aria kissed the top of his head.

Lucas' concentration waivered. Aria was distracting him. Aria felt her neighbors climb the stairs to their apartment. She laughed softly. "They're home."

Aria bent over and nuzzled his neck. She took a deep breath and savored his scent. Aria whispered in his ear. "This is all me, nothing to do with them."
Aria kissed his neck and then moved the arm that wasn't drawing and sat down on his lap with one leg on each side facing him. She leaned in and kissed him. She pulled away and whispered, "We take this very slowly."

Aria took him by the hand and led him to the table. He felt so large following behind her. He sat at the table and started to draw the image that had come to mind. First he sketched a rough approximation of her existing tattoo. Then, around that he started drawing. When he was drawing he always went to a strange place. He just zoned out, becoming unaware of things around him as he struggled to translate the images and feelings that he had in his mind onto paper. Even for simple things, he fell into that zone unless something broke through.

He vaguely felt Aria's hand on his shoulder and then a kiss on his head. This was going well. The image seemed to flow from his pencil onto the paper. His connection with Aria had made it so clear and now it was coming to life. He felt her nuzzling his neck. It became harder to concentrate. This was so clear though. His pen moved faster. He was almost done.

She sat down astraddle him and he couldn't see the pad anymore. He was looking into her eyes, feeling her press against him. He stopped drawing and just watched her. She leaned in and kissed him. Clean, simple, her lips soft. He felt himself respond to her. She pulled away and whispered, "We take this very slowly."

He wanted her. Right now. He kissed her again, arms going around her, pulling her to him, feeling every inch of her touching him. His heart pounded. Slowly, she said. He pulled back and just looked at her. She seemed hungry for him, her eyes seeking something in him. Despite the raw heat he felt, an image of her as a little girl wandering the streets, bombarded by the emotions of the crowd, scared and overwelmed and lost, came to him. His feeling changed. He felt protective of her. He wanted to make love to her. But she needed more than that. She needed acceptance. She needed stability. He could wait.

He embraced her, their two bodies intertwined, and just held her. "I believe in you Aria. And I am here for you,"
he whispered. And he just held her, letting her feel his solidity. He hoped she could also feel how much he wanted her- not just sexually. More importantly, how much he wanted her to be happy, to find peace. So he just held her and hoped that it was enough for her.

Lucas kissed her again and Aria felt everything and more. She longed for this. Not just his touch but his emotions, he's strength, the connection. It was more than she'd wished for, hoped for, dreamed of. His feelings changed but Aria was happy, he had listened, slow was good. He took her in his arms and just held her, told her he beleived in her. That he was there. That was more than anyone had ever done in her life. Aria put her head against his shoulder. "Am I in the way? For you to finish?"

She could get up and just watch, but she wanted to be close. She knew the time would come for more. "'re giving me a tough choice to make. Whatever you want, Aria. I don't mind either way."

Aria smiled and tried not too move too much. She didn't want to make matters worse. She let him finish drawing. She'd see the finish product, she was much more content to just lay against him, feeling him. Aria didn't want to move, didn't want the day to end. But she would have to sleep soon. She'd been up for over 24 hours by this point in time. The hunt the night before had been fruitless, except for the resolve to walk the day, which had turned out far better than she could have imagined.

Lucas zoned out again and Aria let her self drift. It was the first time in forever nothing encroached up on her senses. She was perfectly calm sitting in Lucas' lap, like a child would take comfort. It made Aria slightly nervous in the imagry but she wasn't about to move. Aria closed her eyes and soon drifted into nothingness, probably the best rest she'd gotten since her talent manifested.

Aria relaxed against him. It felt nice, safe. It was a little difficult drawing with her like this, but he didn't want to move her. She needed this and he was glad she was willing to accept his comfort. Gradually he got back into the zone and worked on the drawing until he was satisfied. When he was done he held it up and looked at it. Perfect.

He looked down at her head, aware once again of her pressed against him. She breathed steadily against his shoulder. He smiled and put his arms around her, enclosing her. He sat there for a little while like that. He didn't really want to wake her, but it was uncomfortable.

he whispered. She stirred her head. Softly he said, "Aria, here, let's move."
She sleepily got off him though she still leaned on his shoulder. He stood up, picking her up as he did, and carried her to her bed. He laid her down and then pulled the blanket at the foot of the bed over her. Then he went to the other side of the bed and cuddled up next to her, putting his arms around her. He kissed her gently on the cheek and then put his head on the pillow, feeling her warmth against him, the slow movement of her steady breath.

He fell asleep like that, just holding her.

Aria woke up with the sun rising into the windows. It was a very odd feeling waking up when the sun did. Since coming to Moscow she'd done so very rarely, usually only when she needed to meet someone to do something on normal people hours. But that wasn't actually waking up, more like not going to bed at all.

Aria felt Lucas arm over her body and smiled. She carefully pulled out from underneath him and the blankets. No need to wake him up. She wished she had food to offer him, but the small refrigerator in the apartment was pretty empty. The drawing he'd been working on when she fell asleep sat on the table.

Aria tried to see it from the vantage point she was at, but the lines were drawn in pencil and it was not clear. She walked over to the table and picked it up. The lines were clean and crisp. She smiled. It was perfect. Not that she knew art by any standards, but he was a fine artist.

Two dragons entwined the oroborous, caught in mid-fight. One dark, one light, no one clearly having the advantage over the other. It depicted her life perfectly down to the minute detail. He really did understand. Aria glanced over to the bed where Lucas slept with a smile. Maybe this is what it was supposed to be like. Aria knew that doubt would creep in the moment he left, but for now, she was content in knowing he was there for her and he cared. It didn't help that he found her desirable either, but that was only icing on the cake.

Continued in Dueling Dragons

Edited by Aria, Jul 29 2014, 12:42 PM.

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