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In The Risk of Each Other

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Xaphania was closing the windows between all the worlds. As a witch, Serafina understood the need for balance in the world. She was a warrior who had seen balance and imbalance many times in her life. She understood the need for the Dust that the angel spoke of.

She did not understand how she could meet someone that her heart ached for that she could not have. That was not the way that she did things in this world. In this world, she was the one that ached hearts, the one that could have any she desired, be it man or woman.

The angel knew. There was something about the angel that tugged at Serafina when she saw the angel come towards her.

"The child is safe?"

"She is no longer a child," the angel said, with a smile. "But yes, Lyra is safe at Oxford. She will not be harmed."

"I will avenge her if she is," Serafina answered, loyally. The angel only smiled.

"We will protect her. I have another need of visiting you."

"Another need?"

"I wish to give you what you desire."

She had wanted to answer that she desired nothing, or would take what she desired, but her heart skipped a beat and thought of the human woman from another world, the one with a daemon inside her.

"Yes," Xaphania said. "I wish to give you time. Before the worlds are sealed. If you desire to see her, it shall be granted."

It wasn't even a choice.

The angel led her through the other world, up the steps of a stone house, and knocked on the door before disappearing like a light. It was a trick the witches did not know, and Serafina wished she could question the angel. Xaphania wouldn't stay for questions, and Serafina knew better than to hope.

She had her hope here, as the door opened. There was Mary, looking quizzical. When she saw Serafina, she beamed, exceptionally happy.

"How?" Mary breathed, and Serafina opened her arms for an embrace.

"The male child?" she asked quietly. The male with the disconcerting eyes. She did not want to look at him, here. She did not think she could bear his eyes and the questions about Lyra that would follow.

"With his mother," Mary said softly. She did not let go of Serafina. "How?" she asked again. "They separated the two of them. Will-"

Serafina held up her hands in surrender. "It was not my doing to keep them apart. The angel brought me here, for how long I do not know. Let us make the most of the time we have before she claims me away."

Mary nodded, looking more hopeful than quizzical now. "Come to my bed," she said, and it wasn't a question. Serafina was glad Kaisa had not come for the journey. It would have been cruel to him, to not allow him to indulge in the pleasures of another daemon while she partook of the human flesh.

She derobed quickly, then took her fingers to Mary's clothes until they both stood bare.

"Come to bed," Serafina echoed.

Mary took the order as it was intended, lying on the bed. She was petite, Serafina knew, but she hadn't let her body go the way some women who were older and had given up on love did. Her skin wasn't as pale as her own, but it was light, and Serafina smiled at the faint tan lines. She traced her finger along a line under Mary's breast, very softly. Mary's breath caught, and Serafina thought she looked divine; her hair wasn't spread out all over the place, but it was nestled into the sheets of the bed, framing her face and her innocent looking eyes. That was a lie. Mary's eyes burned with desire, but Serafina knew by the look that Mary had never taken a woman into her bed.

Serafina began to work her fingers into Mary's flesh, dancing along the nape of her nape, trailing down her rib cage to meet at her belly button and move back up again, to her breasts. Breasts were one of the magnificent things about taking up pleasures with women; she moved her lips down, gently kissed one of the slightly sagging breasts. Mary's breasts weren't ugly, but they were aged; to Serafina, this made them more beautiful. Mary's hands glided through her hair, running down her back. It was like rain on a summer day, soft and light and warm. Serafina kissed the other breast as Mary moved her hands to her breasts, cupping them softly.

"Tell me something," Mary asked, her breath short.

Serafina knew the intent of the question and thought about the lore of the witches, and what she could say to Mary.

"It is said lying with a woman makes a witch's power grow, if she has not lain with a man first," Serafina said.

Mary seemed to be pondering this. "And you?" she asked.

"Aye, her name was Kate. She was a human woman. Not much older than the child - but then, nor was I. We danced in the beauty of each other for nothing more than a night."

"And how long ago was that?"

It took Serafina a moment to realise that Mary was teasing her. "Your great-great-grandparents were not yet a speck in their grandparents' eyes."

"Tell me something else."

"Tell me something of you humans, of your souls," Serafina asked. She leaned in close to Mary's ear and whispered, "I can taste yours, right now."

Mary shivered under Serafina, an elastic, sexual shiver that only invigorated Serafina. She moved down the bed carefully, positioning her head right at Mary's navel.

"Our souls might be inside, but they sing at the just right moments, they break in times of sorrow, and sometimes they are nothing but pure ecstasy."

"Like now?" Serafina asked, moving fingers and tongue in a way one could only with centuries of practice. Mary writhed under the touch, arching her body to press it against Serafina's contact. She did not answer, and Serafina took the answer herself, drank in the ecstasy until Mary shuddered and fell back to the bed, gasping for breath.

"Your daemon sings," Serafina said, sounding pleased with herself.

Mary nodded, and sat up. "Please, you have to let me … let me now." She was a kitten, coming to milk; hungry and eager for Serafina.

But Serafina shook her head, "The angel is coming, if she has not arrived. If she has not left."

"We need more time!" Mary begged. "Please, we need more time!"

Xaphania appeared, suddenly, like a light, and Serafina knew the angel had been watching them. It did not bother her, why should it? What she and Mary had just done had been beautiful - all the more that the angel should have shared it with them. Serafina knew Mary, being human, might not appreciate the situation the same way, but a glance at Mary showed Serafina she had nothing to be concerned about; Mary looked pleased, in a very shy way. Pleased and nervous - they both knew what was coming.

"I must," said the angel, and just as quickly as Mary's soul had nearly burst with a happiness so deep it could not be explained, it shattered into the deepest corners of the worlds.

Serafina cupped her hands around Mary's face. "You will always be one of mine, my sweet Mary. Look after Will for me, for Lyra. I shall remember you in every sunset."

She took her robes, put them back on, and let the angel lead her out of the little house, leaving a sobbing Mary behind.

"Why did you do that?" Serafina asked as they made their way back to her world. "You have given desire and taken it in the blink of an eye. Given sorrow to fill the place of peace."

"You will remember her in the sunsets, and she, you," replied the angel. "Would you had I not?"

Serafina did not answer, nor did the angel expect her to give one. It was only when they were at the window that the angel spoke again. "You will tell no-one, Serafina Pekkala, of what has just happened. There are no favours. The windows must stay sealed."

"It would be wrong to give the child a false hope," Serafina said, and she swore the angel smiled.

No, she would tell no-one of what she had done, Mary would stay hers, and only hers. She licked her lips, the faint taste of Mary still upon them. Then she turned from the angel, and looked towards the setting sun.