She held the guitar gently in her lap after finishing her song. She was used to have audience, so it didn’t bother her having few fellow students sitting near by listening while she was practicing for the Culture night.
Token was among them – it was his first time to hear her sing and he was quite startled that she was actually good at it. Well, she wouldn’t have done for the big stadiums, but she was distracting nevertheless. He had heard talks about her singing rising butterflies in empty sky, but this was mere flatter compared the beauty her notes raised among her listeners and suddenly he felt good for coming in.
It had been weeks, before they started sharing their worlds – before that it had been one harsh argument after another with both sure they were sent to hell itself. Not like much had changed since then, but they at least tolerated each other’s personal space now, which was a huge step forward.
She tried to get along already at the beginning of their road, but she was soon lightened on fact that he had no intentions on getting involved with her. The fact that it was compulsory to both sides meant little to the man. Neither did it to her tutor, who explicitly kept giving her bad marks on given in works, which weren’t signed by Token (in order to get a mark, both partners had to sign their united work, but as Token refused even seeing her, she did most of them alone and still got the low mark). But she knew better than just walk away – the alien was bigheaded, but that gave him no right to treat her as a scum he obviously wished her to be. She had to prove him wrong. That meant spending time together which promised to be one hard task with Token’s obligations on the ship’s command post.
The way she just showed up one day behind his audience hall inspired him to give it a try. That she was actually willing to make the effort and lower her personal position to start fresh from the start. Having experience being in lead most of her life it had to be immense sacrifice to her he realized. She immediately did managed to get herself in problems while putting up with him ignoring her the next two days she spent in the waiting room, but at the same time she did get several minor problems solved, things that he wasn’t quite willing to deal with himself.
Like the problem of a bored traveler, who hated being alone all the time in his quarters and therefore annoyed him endlessly with his presence. Or a children’s daycare centre that couldn’t pay the rent after the man he loathed had raised the rent again, but about what she couldn’t do anything because he was friend of his father’s. His secretary later reported her actions to him as one of the weirdest diplomacy she had ever encountered. It made him laugh. But she found a solution to both of their problems by simply introducing them to each other and suggesting them to get some drinks together.
After she vigorously emptied his waiting hall leaving him no duties to sustain his position of being too busy for her, he finally gave in and decided to answer her same and make time for her.
This was a new situation to him – to make time for someone outside his command line. As long as he could remember he had never done something like that, even his own father didn’t take time for him when he was only youth. And now it was almost obligatory as they did have to start getting along otherwise she would end up in some weird accident that got rid the last people that bothered him. That actually seemed out of the question now as he had grown warm heart towards that creature. She made such an effort to rid him from his problems, why ignore her and create a problem to her?
“You sing beautifully” he admitted, kind of surprised. He had learned to have low expectations on things he got rumors about.
She stared at him for a moment in silence before she thanked him and prepared to box the guitar.
Meredith was a mystery to anyone who met her – her shadowed dirt colored eyes glimmering under light honey yellow hair. They chose her to be their princess, but she acted as no princess having only the title to indicate one. They just made her a princess because no less could be paired with high class youth part of the program. How humiliating, they both immediately realized, when they heard of the plan. Low-class Cindy they called her. Considering how many Cinderella movies actually have love added as a keyword throughout the scenery she hardly took it as a compliment. Being added he never missed a chance reminding her of that, yet she was bold and witty, knew huge amount about botanic – poisons were a sort of specialty, she joked sometimes – could talk freely about almost everything, except hygiene and loathed bottles used for candle holders. With that little information known she was a huge question mark that ended with the biggest question of all – why was SHE chosen to be a princess?
“Hey,” she suddenly rose, marking her leaving. “I hear humming?”
Yeah, he could hear it too – high bird like singing from the great hall in the middle of the ship. Only he chose to ignore it, this and the next four nights of the mate finding ceremonies. Every year they had it, sort of coming out party for the last step of becoming a grownup – finding your mature side. That was also to find a mate the easy way. He was four years over his coming out season. His father was desperate for him to officially mature, but he found this whole ceremony to be beyond his willingness. He could bring rows of reasons, why not to participate.
For one- he wasn’t sure spreading “his” beyond knowing, who is the one to “receive” made him lose any interest to start with. He had matured, yes, but not publicly like others, which put him in odds in his rank and family, but he refused it and ignored the whole event. He knew he couldn’t keep this up forever, but few years more sounded quite nice to him.
The second reason for his refusal was more personal. Among them, males with high birdlike humming were seen as the closest to perfection and were preferred as more prosperous mates. The lower the voice the lower the… He happened to be one of those unfortunate ones with heavy low voices, who would hide their reasons forever behind the call of military. Therefore he knew his coming out would be disaster to his family be the saying true or not – who would want him anyway?
He followed Meredith to the balcony, where many earthlings were observing the mating game. She seemed interested in it, amused as the rest of them. They were told about the games earlier, before coming on board as it was obvious they were held in this time, but they had never witnessed one.
The hall floor was filled with couples holding each other close humming to each other, laughing in-between. The humming would rise high and grow stronger with each stroke they put on each other. Sometimes the partners would change and they’d sing to someone new, then like choosing, who sounded better.
He leaned on the border next to her, gruntingly watching them and waited for the usual remarks.
“How interesting…” she started. “You know, you sound beautiful. This is the first time I hear you sing.” She noted. “I can’t remember hearing any of you use your voice this way before.”
He sighed. He had no intentions of discussing this with her right now – he was out of mood to say anything for several minutes already since he first heard them. Still, he felt obliged to answer.
“It’s because we don’t sing outside the mating rituals.”
She like didn’t hear it, but continued. “Like birds on Earth.”
“No,” he shook his head. “Your birds have language; we are only able to hum. Besides, as I told you – we can’t sing outside the mating ritual.”
“Then you are like our birds – they also sing to raise the attention of their potential mates.”
“Why is that?”
“Why is what?” He tried to be as short as possible, with all the people around, answering any of those questions would have been bad idea. But it was wrong to think she’d stop asking them anyway.
“Why can’t you sing outside the ritual days?”
He put it bluntly. “We can’t sing unless aroused.” He waited for a moment for culture shock, but didn’t get any, so he continued “It’s a chemistry thing – the toxin the body produces releases our vocals enough to allow us to hum.” He added fast, as calmly as possible in order not to create fuss.
She said nothing at first, but after half an hour watching them she suddenly mused: “You must have enjoyed your coming out season very much.”
He couldn’t help but grunt.
She wasn’t fooled by this. It raised question in her heart, which in first hand seemed funny, yet looking at them closer made her sad.
He felt her snuggling closer to him, so there was almost no space left between them, before asking.
“You did go through the ceremony, didn’t you?”
His eyes flew on her serious face. He studied it for a while, thinking if she was joking – no one asked such thing, even if they were in private. But she even sounded concerned as if what he said would matter to her.
“Yes.” He replied. He usually pulled away about then, when he could feel someone that close to him, the skin of the other warming him, but he kept himself from moving at any cost.
Her attention turned back on the crowd and he thought that was all that she was willing to ask.
“I wonder how you sound…”
Her question was so quiet he first thought it was gush of air, but then it reached to his brain and hadn’t he recalled his control he would have laughed hard. She wanted to know how HE sounds. This should be interesting. He pulled himself up, away from her warmth zone.
“I ought to be aroused first, remember?”
Her shoulders sank, like asking, “you heard it?”
“You’re kind is not quite my taste.” He posted fast.
“Really?” her voice grew louder again, the sharp chuckle back. She turned around and ran him over with her sinking eyes. “Then you won’t mind if I try?”
His eyes grew wider – the idea was preposterous, especially from her lips. He stared at her shape rested on the border. This wasn’t that horrid idea after all he suddenly found himself thinking. Still, he shook his head in misbelieve. He turned to go and leave it be.
No, he decided a second later, and turned back at her, only to be pulled with her on the way as she got stuck at his sleeve. She apologized fast making an effort to get herself free, but it didn’t happen. They gathered several compassionate looks – it was obvious she couldn’t get free unless she either tore the fabric of her sleeve or his.
“Come,” her eyes sparkled suddenly remembering she had left a pair of scissors at the lab not far in corridor, “I know where we can get help.” She sounded amused by the situation and that angered him – there was nothing funny about getting stuck with someone.
“You have to be more careful!” he snapped at her when she opened the door with her wrist peak.
The lab sat in for the greenhouse she had at home. She hated spending time in the little janitor’s closet they called rooms and therefore she could be more found here, where she conducted experiments with simple wild plant seeds her grandfather had given her. It was always warm and moisture here too, which kept most of the aliens away as they weren’t prepared for it at all, wearing so much fabric it made her laugh.
“Yes-yes… Sorry about that.” She was so occupied with searching for the scissors that she didn’t notice when there was suddenly nothing else next to her hand than mere sleeve. “I’ll get you free in no time…” she sensed the weird weightlessness the sleeve pipe created then and stared at the thing in misbelieve, before returning her gaze at Token, who stood there now with only silk robe covering his chest.
“Wow…” she gasped viewing him all over and feeling a tickle in heart seeing his impressive muscles. “I ought to stop guessing – I thought you had thicker shirts, being from cold planet.” She snapped the sleeve off and the jacket fell on the floor.
“You wished to try.” He said coldly, his voice so low it was hard even to create words. She stared at him, questioning, but then a good sparkle landed back in her eyes, when she realized what he meant – she had moved way further from that trivial idea.
“I’m not in the mood.” She said bluntly and turned to put the scissors away. “One has to have a mood of some sort first.” She mumbled, concentrating on one of the flowers that had broken a leaf.
As an answer he ran his lean fingers over her curved back, forcing a wave of cold spears run through her. She hardly captured her breath feeling them running back and up few more times, before they started studying her sides, his whole palm now caressing over her waste.
She opened her lips to protest, but failed as he pulled her away from the table and turned her around. He kept his movements on her sides, moving them closer to the centre, slowly massaging her arms avoiding the critical areas.
He didn’t look at her at first, nailing his eyes either on her body or her hair, but always so the look was hidden. She tried to make his hands stop, despite her liking their moves and pulled his eyes on her face. They were cold, as if glassed.
She froze on the spot and snapped his arms away. It was like he was merely experimenting on her, like…
“I was merely musing an idea!” she snapped fast, looking how the glass in his eyes disappeared as he realized what he had been doing. Instead of backing off as Meredith expected, he leaned closer and closing his fingers around her back, pulled her closer.
“Be careful what you wish for.” He drawled and picked her up, laying her weight on his chest. “Sometimes I wish to play with an idea, too.”
He buried his head in her hair, inhaling her scent and crushing her softly. His senses streamed on something exotic, intoxicatingly sweet. He remembered smelling something like this one Earth, but he didn’t know its name. Still, the fragrant was enough to make his heart race.
He pulled her lower, so her lips would be close to his as he had seen among the human couples and stared in her shady grey eyes, but they closed slowly and she reached out to his lips instead, pushing a very light kiss on them. He flinched, pulling back a little, but she at once captured his chin and kissed him again, tenderly invading his mouth. His resistance ceased right there and he answered to her invasion, surprised how tender her lips were.
They didn’t kiss in his world, it was new to him that lips could carry so strong lightning through his body as if they’d just…
He let out one very muffled and low purr, so low she thought she hadn’t heard it, but as he continued caressing her back the purr deepened, creating sort of a deep thick constant humming that hovered between few almost identical notes.
She pulled her lips away, surprisingly observing him holding her, eyes closed. Realizing she was rigidly still, he opened his glassy eyes and stared her back, but made no indication of letting her down. The sound slyly faded away.
He was dead serious now, waiting her response.
“Wow.” That was all she managed to put together, but in her mind that took everything pretty much together. She liked his low purring like tone; it made her skin growl reminding her panthers she had once heard in the zoo.
Slight twitch in the corner of his lips brought the purr back and she let out a silent sigh when he nuzzled her neck, sending shivers running wildly over her back. She thrust her hands around his neck, realizing she might as well fall off if she didn’t hold on, but that made him only take a stronger hold.
“My father won’t like this.” He muttered against her neck, the constant purr playing in the back of his head with no effect on his voice. His humming ended, continuing like mere dark breathing, but she heard it still, her head resting right next to his. “Damn, this wasn’t even suppose to happen.”
He didn’t wish to let her go and so he didn’t, cradling her on his arms while others outside the lab sang their songs. She didn’t know how long they stood there, but she thought she must of fallen asleep, because it came as if needle was pulled through her hands when he finally let go of her, putting her down, reached after his coat and left.
She considered sitting, but that would have meant moving her stinging legs and that was immediately out of question. So she stood, wondering if it was really nothing more than a dream, but his fragrance was still hovering over her, making it true.
Her heart turned numb and heavy, making her tiny chest the worst place imaginable for such burden. But one thing was sure and that frightened her more – she wished to hear again that sound she wasn’t suppose to make happen.