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"I'm an idiot!" Kativa wailed. "I'm a great stupid mushroom!" She flung her arms wide to the lake, and the wind ripped a few more strands of dark hair from her braid.Author's Notes
"You're not an idiot," Kether said from behind her, just barely loud enough to be heard over the wind. "You aren't a mushroom, either."
Kativa hadn't heard his approach, and she turned in surprise. She made a rude noise with her lips at her tall agemate. "I'm dumber than a mushroom, then. Mushrooms know better than to obsess over men who have no interest in them. Mushrooms don't run crying out of gatherings because they can't stand the idea that they were rejected by their stupid, childish crushes."
"Mushrooms don't knock over cookpots of stew, either," Kether told her mildly. "But mushrooms don't find lost children or take down Others with a broken arm." He didn't come close to her, but remained an armslength away, which Kativa might have found odd if she hadn't been busy wiping away the tears that had come despite her will.
"No?" she asked petulantly. "Well, I'm sure that Tolnam and Dadiraa would rather I was a mushroom right about now. What a disaster."
Kether gave her a little smile. "At least you didn't break the cookpot. I'd think they'd be grateful for that."
Kativa laughed, sniffed, and laughed again. "They should be," she said. "You always make me feel better." They stood for a moment looking down the beach towards the cliffs. Birds cried somewhere from across the water.
Uncharacteristically, it was quiet Kether who broke the silence. "Kativa, I'm planning to go South on the ship with the surveyors."
Kativa looked up at Kether with huge, surprised gray eyes. "South? You're going South? I thought... we were going to stay here!"
Kether looked away, over the pebble beach to the lapping waves of the lake. "You were staying. You never asked me what I was going to do."
The dark-haired Ranger pulled her braid over her shoulder so that she could play with it. "I... I thought..."
"You thought I would choose whatever you chose, like I always do."
Kativa couldn't deny that. "You've always been behind me."
Kether's placid face pulled into something pained. "Behind you. Apt."
Kativa dropped her braid and put a hand on Kether's arm. "Snowy-crap. You know I didn't mean it like that. You've always been there for me. We do everything together."
"I do everything for you."
Kativa blinked, her gray eyes curious and confused on Kether's face. "You..."
Kether shook off her hand, and folded his arms around him. "You know what they say about me. Do me honor of not pretending that you don't know."
Kether had always taken the teasing in the same gentle, quiet, un-offended humor that he took everything. 'Kativa's shadow' they called him, and some of the less-kind called him 'Kativa's big loyal lug.' Kativa had always shrugged off the idea that he was infatuated with her. He was Kether, her protective friend. Assuredly he'd had a crush on her when they were children, but he'd grown out of that. Hadn't he?
Kativa remembered crying in his arms over Tolnam, and recalled suddenly the way that he would sometime shy away from her, and the way that his breathing stopped sometimes when she threw her arms around him.
"If you're a mushroom," Kether said, turning away, "I'm a great spotted marsh umbrella gone to spore. I'm sorry, Kativa. I care about your friendship, dearly, but I've got to try to let you go, and I can't do that when seeing you only makes me want you more every day. I have to leave, but I don't want you to think it is because I don't care. You're like a sunburn; you're part of me, but you hurt so bad I want to peel off my own skin."
Kativa gaped at Kether's broad back in astonishment. His words, more words than he usually said in a week, were difficult to catch against the wind, but unmistakable in content or in vehemence.
"I'm sorry, Kativa," he said again, without accusation.
Kativa tugged at her braid in distress. "I just never thought about you like that," she said quietly.
Kether turned back. "I know," he said patiently, a little as if she were a very slow trainee.
If Kativa expected to see emotion on his face, or any hint of the words he spoke, she was mistaken; he looked exactly as he always did, with the same grave, tolerant almost-smile. She wondered if it had always hidden pain.
Her mouth worked, but Kativa couldn't think of a thing to say. She tried to imagine her life without Kether's steady affection and support, and couldn't. She looked into his face, and his warm, calm brown eyes, and tried to imagine him in the daydreams that had always featured Tolnam. Impulsively, she stepped close to him, and took hold of his fur ruff.
"What? Kativa, please..." His voice was a rumble as he pulled back from Kativa's hands.
"Hold still," Kativa complained, tugging back at him. "How can I know if I could feel that way about you if I can't kiss you and find out?"
"I..." Kether fell quiet, holding the girl firmly at armslength. "Kiss me?"
"Please?" Kativa's voice was quiet, with her usual fierce determination.
Kether did not resist her as she moved again into him, and he could not contain the shudder than ran through him as Kativa stood on her toes, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips to his. He was frozen, drinking in the smell and warmth of her, so close to him that he could see the freckle on her ear, and the pores of her fair skin.
The dark-haired girl stepped back with a scowl as she opened her eyes. "You didn't help me at all," she groused. "How was that supposed to show me anything?"
Surprisingly, Kether discovered that he could move again, that he had to move, and he leaned down and crushed Kativa in an embrace, kissing her with everything that he had in him. Everything that he hadn't been able to tell her, everything he had wanted to give her, everything that he had been so unsuccessful in denying was there in his mouth, on his lips, and in his kiss.
Even in her wildest imaginings, Kativa had never been kissed like that. She had been kissed before, with passion and tenderness and need, but she had never felt like her whole world was suddenly centered in a kiss. She had never felt so much like the person kissing her would have given his whole self to prolong the moment. It was heady, and intoxicating, and Kativa didn't ever want it to end. Her knees were weak, completely unable to support her, but that was fine, because it was Kether who had his strong arms around her, and he held her aloft at the same time that he drowned her.
He released her slowly, breathing in her air for a moment, unable to move his mouth away from her even after he was done kissing her. She was clinging to his arms, off-balance, and Kether set her carefully away. She didn't say anything, only stood, swaying slightly, with her eyes closed, looking for all the world like she'd just been kicked by a snowy.
Kether was nearly concerned; Kativa still said nothing, still hadn't opened her eyes, several heartbeats later. "Kativa?" he asked cautiously. "Did I hurt you?"
Her eyes flew open. "Hurt me?" she asked breathlessly. "You'd never hurt me!" She flung herself into him, lifting her glowing face to his. "Do that again!!"
Much as he would have liked to comply with Kativa's request, Kether caught her arms as she careened into him and begged, "Don't ask me to do that unless you know what you're asking."
Kativa stilled, and searched Kether's eyes. If anything, they were grayer, and more colorless than hers were, and they held a desperate light. He loved her. Not the romanticized, fanciful love that Kativa had sought from Tolnam, but something deeper, something more tangible and less safe. "I don't know what I'm asking," she said honestly. "I don't even know what I want. But I know what I don't want."
Kether waited for her answer; he wasn't given to conversational prompts.
"I don't want to be a mushroom anymore," Kativa told him.
This is the first Torn World story that I shared with the public. I never intended Kativa to be a primary character. From her first inception, I thought she was too cliche, too clueless and too self-centered to be a character I wanted to work with. I didn't think I was writing a romance. I thought writing this straight-away would get her out of my system for good. How wrong I was on all counts...