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Wash Me Clean

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“I will never stop marveling at the sight of Myka Bering coming undone underneath my fingers, my mouth, my tongue, my teeth.” The woman opposite me nods, expression carefully neutral, and I wonder what she thinks about my saying this. This is not one of the usual topics we talk about. “Not my fangs, however. Never my fangs. And I’ve never come undone for her – and I find myself willing to want to.”

“Ah,” Doctor Cho says. “I see. Tell me, Ms. Wells: when you were turned, did you choose inward or outward glamour?”

This is one of those questions, the ones where we both know she already knows or heavily suspects the answer, but makes me go through the motions of replying anyway. “Inward,” I say briefly.

Her heartbeat gives her away; just the smallest increase, a sign of satisfaction, plain to notice for a vampire like myself. “May I ask why?” She sounds truly curious this time.

“The thought of manipulating others is distasteful,” I tell her. “I’d rather be able to manipulate myself, body and mind.”

“Very noble,” she says dryly. “But not the main reason, I suspect.”

I hold the silence for a long time, and she holds her expression: interested, patient, vaguely encouraging. I remember our first session – she can keep her face like this for an astonishing amount of time, even opposite someone who does not say a word and does not move a muscle. And ninety minutes never seemed so long, not even for this almost one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old vampire. This time, it does not take me nowhere near as long to realize my stalling only sabotages myself and no one else. “I couldn’t stand the sight of my face anymore,” I shrug.

“Hm.”

I hate that answer almost as much as I hate her ‘I see,’ but I cannot deny its efficacy. I want to elaborate, get more of a reaction out of her than a bloody noncommittal hum. “The woman with that face was dead, as surely as her daughter was.”

“How drastically did you change your appearance?”

My eyebrows rise. “I still needed to be recognizable,” I tell her. “I just took the… signs away.”

“Signs of what?”

She is determined to make me say it; I can see it in her eyes and posture, I can smell it on her. I grit my teeth, careful not to let my fangs slip out. “Motherhood,” I reply, even more brusquely than my last one-worded answer.

She nods. “I understand.”

“Do you?” I challenge. “Do you really, Doctor Cho?”

“I understand not wanting to be confronted with evidence of what you perceived as your failure every time you looked into a mirror, yes.”

“Vampires don’t show up in mirrors.”

“You and I both know that that’s just superstition,” she says.

I shrug again. “Had to try.”

She shifts a little in her seat, crosses her legs in a different way. “I do understand the importance of facing your own countenance,” she says, coming back to the topic like the sadist she is. “Or not, as the case might be.” She gives me a smile. “And the importance of being seen for who you are, all that you are, by someone you love, someone who loves you.”

I run my hand through my hair; she and I both know it for the self-soothing gesture it is, but by now I, strange though it might sound, trust Doctor Cho and can allow her to see that she is getting under my skin. I even swallow. I do not need to, not as such; it is just another one of those human gestures not quite yet eradicated.

Frankly, these days, I cherish them.

“Yes,” I say softly.

“So is that something you want to tackle?”

I hesitate only briefly. Perhaps half a minute. I know Doctor Cho is excellent at gauging how far she can push me. However, this might just be the most intimate matter I have broached with her, and not just on the matter of sex.

I nod. “Yes.”

 


 

The first time I do it, Myka looks phenomenally startled.

Small wonder; I always look well put together, nary a strand of hair out of place, even after a fight (or a tryst).

It is a cloak that I have wrapped around me, onto which I hold and have held for well over a century now. It is heavy, stifling at times, but wearing it has become ingrained, and Doctor Cho’s exercises are struggling against that conditioning.

I am weary, though; the artifact we were after targeted children, and I always find those cases hard to countenance. It is safely contained now, and all affected have recovered, and still I am weary. And so when we find our seats on the airplane that will take us home, I let that weariness creep into my shoulders, the way it did when I browsed shelf after shelf of Twelve without finding a single artifact that would aid me in my endeavor to save my daughter.

In short, my shoulders slump, and Myka looks as if she is halfway to asking me who I am and what I have done to her wife. Then she blinks. “Are you…?” she asks.

I nod, unable to formulate a sentence. She knows, after all; telling her the general gist of it was the first task of the ‘homework’ Doctor Cho gave me. The second was to do precisely what I am doing now: allowing myself to indulge in a slight loosening of my cloak around her, if and when I feel ready.

Her reply, bless her, is to move close enough on the narrow airplane seat that her warm and steady shoulder touches my sagging one, and to wrap her fingers around mine. She stays near to me during the entire flight. It is not as if I do not understand the goal of this ‘homework’ or the process at work behind it. Still, the amount of relief that floods me at her acceptance and support surprises me. Letting her see is still work, of course. But the next time, it is a tad easier.

It is months before I let Myka see the dark circles underneath my eyes. Interestingly, I feel more comfortable about showing her those than I do about letting her see the true state of my hair – but then, to be fair, I’ve always been vain about my hair.

That takes another few months.

In the meantime, we collect curiosities, we struggle with other aspects of ourselves and our relationship, we do our best to save whichever part of the world needs saving at any given time, we puzzle out how to be the family we are:

A werewolf turned part vampire (my beloved).

A full vampire (yours truly).

A vampire child turned part werewolf along the way to adulthood (my daughter Christina; long story).

And a human imbued with what some other humans thought were ‘the best aspects’ of vampirism and lycanthropy (my beloved’s ex-partner and my daughter’s now-… something. All part of that long story.)

We are, all of us, immortal now, and I cannot begin to tell you how much that eases my mind. It was not always so, and loving Myka when I knew she was as mortal as any human or werewolf, constantly worrying over losing her to the same fate as I thought I had lost my daughter to was… a challenge I was barely up to. I am grateful that this is behind us; that among the myriad worries that crowd my brain, this one I was allowed to banish.

Do not ask about Christina, I beg you. Let us focus on this part of the story; I shall tell the other at another time, I promise.

Let us return to the here and now, and focus on Myka Bering, she of the glorious curls and supple body, laying out a razor on a small table next to the bathtub.

She is as naked as I am, and yet only one of us is shivering. Not with cold, but with nerves.

“Take as much time as you need,” she tells me for the hundredth time, “and if you want or need to stop, just stop.”

“I know,” I tell her in turn.

“I know you do,” she replies with that smile of hers, crooked and so very charming. “I just figured it would bear repeating. Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in with you.”

“Cheek,” I admonish her, but there is no force behind it, just fondness.

The bathroom is large and well-appointed; we have booked ourselves into one of the best, most select and secluded hotels this country offers, for the entire next week. No rush, no demands on our time, and an unholy fear to bother us put into our fellow agents’ hearts – I exaggerate, of course. They will refrain from contacting us out of their own free will and their regard for our happiness.

There is the aforementioned bathtub, easily large enough to fit several people. A walk-in shower resplendent with showerheads both fixed and detachable. A generously-sized vanity with complimentary products from a luxury brand. More towels than you could shake a stick at, plush and soft and white as snow.

And myself in the center of it all, trembling.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before, remember,” Myka tells me, one step away from me but reaching out her arm to gently touch my shoulder.

“I know.” It comes out more impatient than she deserves, and I hang my head. “I am sorry, Myka.”

“I get it,” is her reply.

And she does; I know she does.

“Would you like me to look away? Wait outside?”

Oh, she does know me. “No,” I insist. I want her to remain; I will lose my nerve if I were to lose sight of her. I know my body language tells her so. Trained as she has been to read any vampire’s body language, she has on top of that, over the years, become an indisputable expert at deciphering mine. I am not doing this for her – the thought sounds like Doctor Cho, and is only half-correct. Yes, I know I am doing this for myself as well, but my love for Myka, and my wish that she should know me, is powerful motivation.

The plan is as follows: I let go of my cloak; I let her see the body that was turned into a vampire in exactly the state it was, unveiled and bare of glamour. The body of a mother five years and change after her daughter’s death, of a woman with barely a thought as to her appearance except the notion that I had to stay physically fit in order to reach my goal. And then we shower together, perhaps take a bath together, perhaps retire to bed together – if I can.

No pressure; she has said so half a dozen times today alone. We will take this as it comes, and even though my vampire body will revert to its glamoured state while I sleep, there is nothing stopping us from taking a shower tomorrow all over again.

I take a breath I do not need but which serves to steady my nerves, and begin the process, top to toe. My hair loses its luster, becomes lanky and greasy on my shoulders – back then, I washed it only when it occurred to me, and on the day that I was turned, that had been at least three days since. My face – it is a peculiar feeling when I let go of the glamour on my face, much like you might feel when you consciously relax a strained expression. I know there are a few crow’s feet at the outer corners of my eyes, and lines of fatigue and grief dug in around my mouth. I know Myka can see them, but she smiles at me, her eyes lighting up when mine meet them. Hers shine with love; mine fill with tears.

“Hey,” she greets me softly.

I try to smile in reply, and know I fail.

My head droops slightly as my shoulder slump, but even though my body looks a tad more bent and weathered now, my mind feels more and more unburdened. This is the part where, I agree with Doctor Cho, I do this for myself – the relief I feel at setting down this glamour, this weight of deception and artifice. Myka comes into this because I would never have done this for my own self; I never thought myself worth it. She, she is. Her looking at me, at my own true self, with love shining in her eyes, is worth it. And maybe, by that proxy, I can think myself a little worthy, too.

My breasts soften and sag – first sign of my motherhood to appear, and hardest to get past. I nursed Christina with these breasts, cradled her small, black-haired head against my chest so very gently; Myka knows my thought process, and holds out her hand for me to take and pull myself back to the present. My eyes follow the motion of my arm, track the glamour receding and leaving hard, corded muscle in its wake. I had lost all softness, on my way to save my daughter, every ounce of it turned into muscle and sinew and determination.

Myka’s thumb strokes my knuckles, and I look at her and she is smiling again.

Scars and stretch marks now appear on skin that is shallow from long days and restless nights, and Myka Bering smiles at the sight, at me, at the body of who I was when I chose immortality. She pulls me closer, raises my hand to her face and kisses the knuckles she just caressed. “Hey,” she says again, in that soft, breathy way of hers that says she can barely contain her joy at seeing me. I find it hard to believe that she does, but she has asked me to trust her, and that, I do.

She pulls me into the shower, sits me down on the wooden stool, and turns on the lower half of the showerheads, adjusting the temperature until I signal that it is perfect.

I see her reaching for the shampoo bottle and close my eyes. I tilt my head back when I can hear her step up behind me. The water envelops me, warm and soothing, and then her fingers are on my scalp and my head lolls into her abdomen as she washes my hair. Her touch is steady and sure and oh, so very gentle: the slightest hint of short, blunt fingernails as she massages the shampoo into my scalp. I am glad I do not need to breathe – this would, for certain, rob me of my ability to do so.

I can feel her naked body all down my back, but what it wakes is not arousal – it is sanctuary. I let myself sink into the safety she offers, the reassurance, the exquisite care. She taps my shoulder and begins to pull away, and then cradles my head as she steps fully aside, to let one of the showerheads rinse the shampoo from my hair. Then she inserts herself between it and me again and applies conditioner with the same steady and gentle motions.

“Tilt your head back further,” she says next, and when I do, her fingers start to work cleansing foam into the skin of my face, taking their own sweet time massaging my jaw muscles – it is a laugh between us, usually, whose teeth are clenched harder at any given time, but here and now, my mouth almost drops open under her ministrations. Her fingers come up behind my ears and once again my head droops until it comes to rest against her; she just chuckles, a low, pleasant, loving sound deep in her chest, and continues to massage my forehead, my jaw, my neck with just the right amount of strength.

“I’m going to rinse off your face and get the conditioner out of your hair,” she announces, and I feel like I have not a single care in the world for she is taking charge of all of them, right up to holding up my head in one steady hand so that I do not have to. She chuckles again as she does what she has announced, and kisses my temple when she is done.

She then proceeds to lather up one of those ingenious little balls of plastic mesh that serve as washing implements these days and produce the most amazing amount and quality of foam. I let my head droop forward as she lifts my arms to lave them; I shiver as she strokes my hair aside to wash my shoulders and my back. She is never far; even so I seek her closeness, leaning into her whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I have never felt so loved.

She runs her little ball of mesh over scars, over stretchmarks, over hard muscle and ropy sinew; I watch her eyes roam every inch she sees. And I am not afraid. I know she will remember; I also know she does remember. Nothing she has not seen before – in bits and pieces only, yes; as much as I have let her see here and there, but that was the goal, was it not? To ease myself into it until I am both ready and able to have this moment, this occasion on which she knows the whole of it, the whole of me.

With long strokes and gentle curves of hand and mesh ball she anoints me, cleanses me, washes away the loathing and despair that clings to this skin of mine until I rise from my perch and press myself against her, finding her mouth in a kiss that is both end and beginning.

The mesh ball drops to the floor and is forgotten as suds swirl into the drain around it.

Body against body in the spray of hot water we move, and for once I do not feel cool against her. My skin aches with the love she has washed onto it, and only her hands on it can appease the longing. With my fingernails on her back I show her this, and she is quick to reciprocate; her fingers have been on my skin before, but never like this. Always they were caught by my hands or my words or sometimes her own realization that I did not like to be touched; here, though, today, right now, I need her to touch me, I need her competent hands to keep me in my skin.

She grounds me and lifts me at the same time; her touch is elation. I have lost track of when I last felt skin on my skin and here she is, blazing paths of gentle fire across my body, undoing me and knitting me back together with every caress.

We are not kissing, have not since the first one. I can barely process her hands on my skin; her lips on mine would surely unravel me. Her mouth does not seek mine, and I marvel at her understanding. Like I said, she has always been adept at reading me, and has been doing so for well over two years now – my marvel at her understanding is not over its existence, but over the immeasurable consistency with which she offers it up to me.

It is in these moments that I know I do not deserve her, no matter how she laughs away the thought.

She does not know, precisely, how my body wants to be touched, nor does she, I think, understand truly how much it craves to be touched – a hundred years and more are hard to fathom for someone barely over thirty. But she knows my body’s signals for ‘more’ and for ‘enough’, and that suffices quite wonderfully.

She daubs my curves and planes with her hands now, all suds long gone. Uses her fingers to follow a stretchmark here, her palms to smooth across a scar there, acquaints herself with every inch of my skin under the shower’s warm spray. Her touch does not arouse as much as it anchors me, ever more closely, to the love we share. And as my tears mingle with the droplets on my face, I know that this is precisely what I need from her. I pull her close and cling to her, forehead on her shoulder and arms loosely looped around her neck; she whispers her love into the crook of mine. I shiver with her breath on my skin and with the knowledge that I would not let anyone else get anywhere near this close; a century of enforced paranoia will do that to a person. But Myka, werewolf though she is, would never harm me, has never once harmed a single hair on my body apart from that one day next to a raging nameless Siberian river – and even then she only defended herself against a vampire out of her mind with shock and grief. She incapacitated me easily then; she could do the same now if she so wanted, and the thought reassures me in two ways: one, that she could if it ever became necessary, meaning that if I ever became a danger, she would most assuredly stop me, and two, that unless and until this happens, she never will.

Myka Bering is my haven in more ways than one, and focusing on that now makes me relax even further into her embrace. I rise onto my toes, and her arms wrap themselves more securely around my back. “I’ve got you,” she whispers, and I feel her widen her stance and settle her body so that she can hold me with the stability of the Earth itself. I laugh a watery laugh into her neck and raise myself up further, and after a moment she understands and adds lift of her own, and then I sling my legs around her waist and she holds me aloft and I feel weightless, tethered to the ground only by virtue of her skin and sinew and muscle and bone and blood.

I can feel her heartbeat vibrate through my whole body now, and though I know it does not take pulsing blood to feel emotions, is not the idea strongly enough etched into all our minds that we cannot help but connect the abstract concept to the physical object regardless? Strong as her heart beats, it almost feels as though I myself have a pulse again, and if that is not an apt simile for what she has done to me, done for me, then I rescind the title of wordsmith.

She carries my weight so easily, metaphorically and literally.

And yes, I have done the same for her and, fate allowing, will continue to do so for the rest of our days. I have held her the way she holds me, I have carried her – not quite the way she carries me right now, but easily and safely nevertheless – I have showered her with love both abstract and physical.

And I have seen, each time we enjoyed the latter, that she was aching to reciprocate even as she respected my wish to not be touched in turn. I did not dare allow it; I knew what it would entail. She herself faced the same concerns in the beginning, and pushed through them with all of her considerable willpower; I could not match her. Yet another way in which I do not deserve her, no matter her protests.

It took me until here and now to gather what scraps of determination I had left, and in this, too, Doctor Cho was right: start small, be successful, build on that success. Occasional glimpses of my true self became long glances became minutes shared, then hours. Fully clad and at arms’ length became – well. Us, here, skin to skin in our embrace under the flowing water.

My center is pressed against her abdomen. It begins as a factual observation: I can feel her pulse thundering against my intimate parts. It wakes in me, as though someone flipped a switch, the desire to be touched not soothingly but desirously, strong and sudden enough to make me shudder against her and sink my lips onto her skin. “Touch me,” I murmur into her shoulder. Conversely, though, her fingers still.

I know what will happen next well before it does. “Are you sure?” she asks, and her voice vibrates through me; if my heart or lungs were still human, I do not doubt they would cease their function.

As it is, I shake my head no; already my nerves have caught up with me, no matter the still extant contact between my nethers and her skin. Yes, she has touched me with love, but will that extend to touching me with desire? Yes, I have enjoyed her loving touch, but will that persist when the nature of her touch changes?

What will she think of me in the throes of passion?

Rationally, I know I cannot hurt her. Strong and fast though this vampire is, she can match me measure for measure; I do not have to fear loss of control for that reason.

Rationally, I know that.

And rationally, I now know that she appreciates my form, my body the way it is, the way that orgasm, when all glamour is lost along with inhibition, would show it her.

And yet, as her arms cradle me, as her skin is warm against my very center, as water streams down our backs, I am frozen in place.

She is talking. I only notice it belatedly; she is crooning reassurance to me, low and gentle and with her hand moving up and down between my shoulder blades. “It’s alright,” she says, and “it’s okay,” and “I’ve got you,” interspersed with “whatever you want, baby.”

I almost laugh at that one – I want her. I want her to touch me the way I touch her, to unravel me and set me free, I want to lose myself in what she does to me the way I watch her give herself over every time I make love to her. I want it with a fierceness that sings in every single fiber of my being, and I know full well that the only thing keeping me from it is my own very self.

I feel myself getting angry – but she feels it to, in the tensing of my muscles. She urges me off her, eases me to the ground, pulls back just enough to look me in the eye. “Helena,” she says; calls me by the name I gave her license to use, the first person in a long time to be granted it. “Helena, don’t force it. Let’s take a step back, okay; let’s take a breather.”

I am about to retort that I do not need to breathe, but her look, so patient and forbearing, stops me short. She is not talking literal breath; I am not too thick to know the difference. I drop my gaze to where the mesh ball rests forgotten on the floor. “Alright,” I bring out.

She turns off the water and wraps me in one of those soft, plush, white towels.

My tears can no longer hide in water running down my cheeks. She sees them as she pats me dry, but neither comments nor makes a move to hug me, and that is precisely what I need, too.

She knows me better than anyone else, my Myka, and all I can offer in return is my love. I am not the understanding kind; I barely understand myself at the best of times. She once told me that compared to me she feels coarse and gauche; I replied that compared to her I feel like a bumbling fool.

We all have our flaws and weaknesses, do we not? And by all that is holy, she loves me regardless, hard though that is for me to believe.

The towel hides my body, and I shrug it off before it becomes too much of a safety blanket. That much willpower I do possess. Her eyes are drawn by the motion, and widen when they see its effects, then she smiles at me, wide and proud and brilliant. I cannot help but feel enheartened – almost, almost I feel annoyed by this simple, foreseeable cause and effect, but when Myka gives me this kind of smile, annoyance cannot touch me.

I try to smile back at her and fail miserably, but she sees the effort and acknowledges it with a softening of her expression and a hand held out to me. By now I know that gesture for what it is and how I can react to it – I can choose to take it and stay at a comfortable distance, I can choose to ignore it and simply step into Myka’s personal space instead, I can take it and step into her personal space. I can also utterly ignore it, but I have only ever done that once, and know it caused her pain.

Today, I take it and stay a step apart, and she nods at me. “Would you feel better if we put clothes on?” she offers.

I decline with a shake of my head. “I would like to carry on with our plan,” I tell her, nodding towards the razor she has set down. I had not cared enough about my appearance, back then, to shave my body hair every day; today I would very much like to change that, even though I know all of this will regrow overnight.

That is precisely what razors are for, Doctor Cho had told me with a chuckle.

“In the tub?” she asks, “Or out of it?”

I ponder the question for a moment, then decide on, “Outside. But we can start the water; it will take a while for a tub this large to fill.”

She nods and busies herself fiddling with the faucet until she is content with the temperature; I, meanwhile, pick up the stool from the shower and a can of shaving cream from the vanity. As I prop my right leg on the stool and smooth the cream onto it, I realize that my hands are trembling. At this rate, I will nick myself, and while that is not that big of a deal, human or vampire, the shaking itself is. It makes me feel weak. Insufficient. Not up to the task.

“Let me,” she says then, as if that is the most normal of proposals. She takes the razor from my unresisting hands and steps to my side. “I’ve got this.” And she does – her hands, again, are steady and sure as they pull the razor across the skin of my calf. Even though she is nowhere near my privates, it feels impossibly intimate, and it most assuredly arouses me. I am certain that she picks up on it; her sense of smell is far more acute than mine. Her behavior does not change one jot, and that reassures me even as my mounting desire unnerves me.

She has got this. I smile at the phrase, at the back of Myka’s head as she bends down to circumnavigate my ankle. I can (and do) trust Myka in all other things; I can in this, too. The words she has said a hundred times and more do sink in now: whatever is alright for me is fine with her. Whatever pace I set or activity I choose for whichever duration, she is here to support me. If I want to stop, she will stop; if I want to go on, she will do whatever makes going on easiest for me.

I have lost count of how often I have heard her say these words – but here and now, they bloom into knowledge within me in a way they have never before.

Myka has got this. She has got me. She has got my back, she has got my best interests at heart, she gets me – however these times phrase it, Myka Bering is there for me, unconditionally, unwaveringly, for all of me, all of who I am.

I reach out a trembling hand as she makes to step around me to reach my left leg, and meet her gaze without hiding what my most recent realization has done to me. Her eyes go wide at what she sees in mine – elation, humility, assuredness – and then she smiles the smallest of smiles, and nods the smallest of nods, and says, “Exactly.”

Sometimes I do think we can read each other’s minds.

My hands are steadier now, and she returns the razor to me and watches me shave my other leg. I can see her appreciate my form, and her gaze, somehow, siphons away my uneasiness with how I look the longer she keeps it on me. I can even joke about how no one has seen me like this in over a hundred years, and her little brook of laughter drains a bit more of my nerves. And then she thanks me, and I do nick myself, and she stays my hand, reaches out her finger to scoop up the drop of blood, holds it up to her mouth and licks it off and I-

I have not seen a more arousing thing in almost one hundred and fifty years.

Our eyes are locked on each other for what seems like an eternity before she turns to shut off the flow of water to the tub. With a heavy breath, a slow blink and a hard gulp she then looks at me again, then down at the razor that I still cling to.

“Let’s, uh… finish this first?” she suggests.

My hand trembles as I hold the razor out to her. Her hands are steady as rocks as she finishes my leg; she then bids me raise each arm in turn as she shaves my armpits. That done, we both stare at each other again, then look down as one at the tuft of hair at the apex of my legs.

“What-” I begin, and have to clear my throat. “What do you prefer?”

“I don’t mind either way.” She, too, coughs a little. “Do you have a preference?”

I lick my lips unthinkingly, and her eyes crash to the gesture. If I were human, it would make me blush; as it is my skin has been flush for a while now, all blood at my disposal humming in my nerve endings. “Would you… would you mind shaving me?”

“Not at all,” she says very quickly, very earnestly. “If you trust me to?”

“There is no one else I’d rather held a knife to my intimate parts,” I tell her, and she laughs.

“Well,” she says, nodding at the stool, “sit down then. No, face that way, towards the light, please.” When I am seated appropriately, she kneels down between my legs and looks up to me – oh, what a view – before placing a hand on my knee. “I think this will be easiest if you could put your leg up on my shoulder.”

I have to swallow at this. I do as she asks, though – of course I do.

She lowers her gaze to my center, and I see a small crease of concentration appear between her brows. Hers is not an expression of desire anymore; hers is, now, a mien of a woman preparing for a task. “How do you want it?” she asks. “All gone, or just parts of it? And if so, which parts?”

The razor is not fit for trimming hair to a shorter length; it is either all or nothing – the question is only, as Myka said, which parts. Myka herself, I know, goes with what she calls a half-and-half; she leaves her tuft the way it is and I appreciate it; it is beautiful as the curls on her head. She does shave her labia, and as someone rejoicing in giving her oral pleasure, I appreciate that as well. This makes for an easy answer: “Same as you.”

She throws me a quick smile-and-wink that, had I been standing, would have made my knees go weak, and sets to work. Her fingers are deft and her expression remains singularly focused, but I can see – I can see her pupils widen and her nostrils flare ever so slightly as her touch impacts on me. And impact it does; no one has touched my intimate parts for any purpose, sensual or not, in long, long years, and I cannot help but be affected.

I feel incredibly vulnerable, sitting here with one foot propped on Myka’s shoulder, open to her gaze as she handles a blade across my labia. Across my abdomen and on my thighs are stretchmarks, silver and obvious. She has seen them earlier, I know, has run her fingers along them and her palms across them in acknowledgement and caress. Still, I cannot help-

“You are beautiful,” she says, in an almost detached tone, brow still creased, fingers still at work.

“How-?” I begin in my surprise, and she throws me another one of those quick smiles.

“You are incredibly tense,” she says, “and I can feel your leg twitch as though you want to move it to where I can’t see.”

I should not be surprised anymore by how well she reads me.

“You are beautiful,” she says again, and this time she looks me straight in the eye. “I’m so grateful you’re showing me yourself, because you are beautiful.”

“Surely not as beautiful as-”

“You are real,” she insists, and I fall silent. “No glamour, just you. Real, and beautiful. I understand why you use it, and I support you using it just as much as I’d support you not using it. I just want you to know that you are just as beautiful to me this way as the other.”

I bite down on my lip; I do not want to tear up again. She is still looking at me, meeting my slightly moistened gaze with calm assurance. Then she nods, once, and drops her eyes to her task again. Moments later, she is finished.

“Why don’t you rinse off in the shower?” she suggests. “And then we can go in the tub together, if that’s still a go.”

“It is,” I say, because I want it to be. I want to be comfortable in my nakedness around her – my full nakedness, of clothes and of my cloak of glamour – comfortable with us touching, be it without sexual intent or with it. A soak in a tub lends itself to that, does it not? Therefore, I step into the shower to rinse off the shaving cream, sucking in a subdued breath when I touch my now-smooth labia, and then step out again only to see something that makes me stop and take notice.

Myka is already in the bathtub, and since it is a luxuriously large one, she is stretched out in all her glory, naked, strong and lithe. In any other circumstances, on any other day, seeing her like that would make me desire her instantly – today, it makes me shy.

“Mind if I join you?” I ask, trying to mask my sudden trepidation, and of course she notices, and of course she responds accordingly.

Her smile is loving, and the water slows her movement as she spreads her arms to the sides of the tub. “Please do,” she says, and where, on any other day, in any other circumstances, her voice might have been seductive, today it is calm.

I am not quite sure just how to join her; her arms seem to indicate that I am welcome within them, but my shyness makes me settle at the tub’s other end, and her smile never wavers. My knees are pulled up to my chest and that means we are not even touching, and even I can see the senselessness of that, so I uncross my arms and stretch out my legs until our toes meet in the middle.

And Myka giggles.

It is one of the most adorable sounds I have ever heard from her, and my heart goes wide. I decide not to stop my impulse but give in to it instead, and move forward to sit between her legs. Large as the tub is, I fit easily; nervous as I am, I keep my eyes on her face rather than lowering my gaze.

“D’you wanna turn around and lie against me?” she asks.

I am surprised by her question, and equally surprised by how fast I nod; I want to feel her skin against mine again, I realize, and lying against her back to front means that I will not have to meet her eyes. And so I turn around and ease back between her legs; her arms come up around me as I settle against her. I can feel her skin against my back, then I can feel her lips on my neck. She very carefully circumnavigates my pulse point and I say a silent prayer of thanks – that spot is incredibly fraught. It is where I was drained when I was turned; even just touching it is something I have never allowed anyone since. My skin healed when vampire blood started coursing through my veins, but the spot has been sensitive ever since, surpassing almost every other patch of skin in that aspect.

Trust Myka to know all this, to remember and respect it. Trust her, also, to caress me, keep us on track for our plan.

Her breaths lift me on her chest, and I can feel them on my skin as her lips wander along my neck, upwards until they find my jaw. I can feel her ardor, her love for me in how tightly she holds herself, intent on doing the right thing for me. It reassures me, lifts me, carries me, and I find her hands that have been lingering left and right on my waist, and lift them to cover my breasts.

Her mouth releases a soft gasp against the hollow under my jaw, and her hands cup, left, right, the crook between her thumb and forefinger curling around my nipples. I arch into the motion and she lifts me higher onto her hips, one hand sliding around my waist to help keep me in place, the other tightening on my breast. Her tongue laves along the tendon of my throat, and my head lolls to the side to give her better access; I waste no thought on protecting my pulse point even though she is mere inches away from it.

She rolls my nipple and I gasp; her arm around my waist holds me just the right amount of tight to ground me. Her tongue finds my earlobe and I push back into her, inviting her to delve in and devour. She does, and within moments my sex pulses and aches as if her tongue were laving it instead of my ear.

Lying as we are, she cannot see much of me, and suddenly that bothers me. “Please,” I whisper, “I want to turn around.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard,” she says, a loving reminder combined with a gentle kiss to my jaw. “This right here is fine with me.”

“I want to,” I insist, and immediately her arms release their hold on me, just enough to signal to me that I may move any way I please. I turn around and my mons buts up against hers; we both gasp and almost involuntary my hips begin to push into her. Her eyes flutter with pleasure but then open again, determined; I desist with a small, bashful smile. She is right; this is about me being pleasured, not me pleasuring her. I lean back, back, back, and pull her with me, until our position is reversed and she lies on top of me, hips nestled between my thighs, mons close enough for me to feel her tuft tickling my labia.

She does not push into me, though, but bends her mouth to my breasts. They are half submerged and I shift a little higher to give her access; the contrast between the water’s warmth, the comparable coolness of the air, and the heat of her mouth is intoxicating. Her right hand comes up to lavish attention on the breast that her mouth is not moving against; her left arm curls around my waist, pressing me to her once more. My sex is pressed against her abdomen now, and as her lips close around my flesh and weave their magic I cannot help but grind against her, seeking friction.

I have not allowed myself to feel this want, this need, for so long, but these are Myka’s arms, Myka’s lips, Myka’s fingers and body and hips – this is the woman who loves me, whose love I am allowed to drown in.

At the realization, tension drains from my body that I had not known it had held; I know Myka can feel its departure as well. Her mouth stills for a moment, then presses a kiss to the skin she was in the process of marking, a kiss that is chaste in comparison and yet incandescent with love. Her arm tightens around my waist. She does not acknowledge the change in me with words, but her actions speak for themselves; when she resumes her ministrations, every motion is intent, profound, dedicated to give me pleasure.

Her mouth closes around my nipple and tug; my head lolls back in response. Then I can feel her teeth in the same spot. They bite just hard enough to make me relish their touch, to groan at the tiny pinprick of pain when Myka tugs again. Her tongue laves the tender skin, then her mouth finds another spot to suck and mark; I bury my hands in Myka’s curls – I want to keep her here forever.

Her hand abandons my breast and joins her other hand to pull me closer to her, and I realize my hips have been gyrating against her in their fruitless search for contact. She cants her body and her hip slips between my legs; I exhale a moan and bear down on her hip bone. Her mouth switches sides, finds unmarked skin and sets to changing that; my body arches against hers as she stokes the fire within me. My motions lose their rhythm and she gives me an encouraging hum that reverberates through skin and flesh and bone – and makes me falter.

What am I doing?

“I can’t,” I gasp, and she stops immediately. “I- I can’t,” I repeat, pulling away mindlessly, thoughtlessly; I need-

She withdraws, sits back on her haunches, gives me space. “It’s alright,” she says, though she is breathing heavily and her pupils are wide with arousal.

Her acceptance, so readily given, sears shame into me. I hang my head; blood is pulsing underneath my skin, want and guilt in unison. “I’m sorry,” I say, unable to meet her eyes.

“I know,” she says easily, and repeats, “It’s alright. We don’t have to get it right the first time. You pushed yourself a bit too far; that happens. We’ll just take a step back, you find your footing, we take it from there. Okay?”

Heavens, I do not deserve her. I clearly do not. And yet she is here, determined and unwavering. “I love you,” I say helplessly.

“I know,” she says, with a smile in her voice. “And you do deserve me, just for the record.”

She does know me well. I look back at her and roll my eyes, and she laughs, and I know I am forgiven even when I struggle to forgive myself.

We towel off and drain the tub; I am indifferent to changes in temperature but she is not, and was starting to get cold. The bed is our destination. The sheets are soft and pristinely white; the light that floods the walls to the left and right of the headboard is golden and warm. She dims it until I nod my satisfaction; it still is a little bit brighter than I would have it, but I do not want to feel like I am hiding in shadows. I want her to see me, all of me, the way I am, the way shower and razor and her care have left me.

And with that thought I turn, away from the bed and towards the mirror, so that I know what she sees when she looks at me.

My hair is slowly drying but for the tips that were submerged in the tub’s water; it is clean and shines softly, framing my face in gentle waves – not quite as lustrous as my glamour-aided locks, but nowhere near as limp and dull as before either.

The shadows under my eyes will never go away unless I will them gone, but my skin is still flush with blood and makes up for them, I think, in the rosiness of my cheeks. My lips are plump from our kisses; when Myka steps up behind me and meets my eyes in the mirror with a look of utter, utter love, my mouth cannot help but curl into a smile even as my eyes fill. She stands behind me close enough to touch in some spots and I am keenly aware of every single one; the tickle of a curl on my shoulder, the brush of a nipple against my back, her hip against my buttock. Her fingers are nowhere near my skin, and I suddenly crave them so much that it takes my breath away. I find her hands and place them on my abdomen unceremoniously; I need to feel her feeling me. My eyes are fixed on the two of us in the mirror; I blink my tears away – I need to see her seeing me.

Her hands start roaming, gentle and sure. They revisit the marks she has familiarized herself with and now I purposely watch her face as she touches them, see the reverence, the love, the tenderness and ardor with which she regards my body even in this state. Her fingers linger for a moment on a scar that runs the length of my left quadriceps and I tell her of the knife fight that put it there; her hand wanders to the densely puckered scar on my waist where a strafing bullet took part of my flesh with it. I would lay the story of every mark and blemish on my body out for her but she shakes her head, pressing kisses along my shoulder while her arms loosely encircle my waist. Her right hand comes to rest splayed across my abdomen, cradling and caressing my pregnancy-stretched skin; her left slides lower and cups my sex – she does not push in, though, but simply covers my skin with her warmth. She drags her tongue along my trapezius and dips it into the hollow atop my clavicle. I cannot help my hips jerking into her grip at that. One of my hands winds itself into her hair to hold her head to my skin, the other encircles her wrist to ensure her hand does not move from where it is.

I watch myself, my body, react to her. It answers to her easily, eagerly, and I laugh out loud – gently, but out loud – when I recognize gestures that I typically use on her. Her lips are at my earlobe now, tugging and nibbling, then her tongue swirls into the shell of my ear – my knees buckle for a moment, at the arousal that the caress sends rushing through me, and her arms tighten around me to help me stay upright. Her teeth rake the edge of my ear, her tongue follows each swirl inside it; I grind my center into her hand just like she does when I do the same to her. Wondrous, is it not, that our reactions should be so similar? And just like I do for her, she now extends her middle finger to part my folds and dip into the slickness between them; I gasp out a trembling breath.

“Is this alright?” she asks, voice low and throaty.

My hair moves against her skin as I nod; her finger slides deeper and I arch towards it. She does not enter me; her fingertip teases around my entrance, slips along folds, teases but does not touch the small bundle of nerves at the apex. My breath leaves me in a hitched rush, and in the mirror I watch as freckles appear on my skin one after another, one of the deepest layers of my glamour finally shed and discarded.

“Like the stars coming out,” she murmurs into the crook of my neck, kissing the ones within reach, then licking along my muscle again, up, up, up my neck until she finds my earlobe once more. Her arm catches my weight when my knees refuse to do so any longer; I am at her mercy now, held up by her strength. Her finger between my folds is pushed a bit deeper, but still she does not enter me – and I realize I want it; I am burning for her to do so.

I cant my hips, push into her hand, and her reply is to withdraw it. To my mewl of protest, she chuckles and tells me to put one foot on her knee so that my leg is drawn up to allow her better access. Her arm around my midriff finds a better position to carry my weight as I follow her instruction, and then her hand sneaks between my legs from behind. “Inside?” she asks; I nod, she complies, I arch against the arm that is holding me – I have not felt anything like this in so very long. My eyes roam the view in the mirror; in it I can see Myka holding me upright, tanned skin against pale skin, love and ardor in her eyes in equal measure. It is truly she, it is truly I, it is truly what we are doing, it is truly love. I hold her gaze as I adjust to the sensation of her finger inside me; it has not entered all that deeply, but it still takes me a moment.

“I’ve got you,” she says, loving reassurance and confident claim. My foot trembles against her knee, sinks down again as I yield to gravity; I can only do so much at a time. The movement changes the angle of her finger, changes the tightness of my channel, rubs one against the other and makes me gasp. “More of that?” she asks, and again I nod against her.

Her finger flutters within me, slight movements that remind me of my nerve endings, reacquaint me with the sensation of them firing. As I grow accustomed, her movements become bolder, stronger, until she is driving into me with the same strength as I am pushing into her. My gaze has not left the mirror; her eyes are unfocused, indicative of her attention being on touch rather than view. But every now and then our eyes meet and it is electric, exhilarating, a shock that reminds me, that keeps me in the present: this is truly she, this is truly I, this is truly what we are doing, this is truly love.

My body is shaking with pent-up arousal now. I know I am near my release, and I marvel that we have gotten here so quickly. Still orgasm is out of reach; something is missing and I am not sure-

“Touch yourself,” she says, ardent and confident and throaty, and I shudder at the thought and comply with her command. My eyes follow the movement of my hand in the mirror: it had been curled alongside Myka’s arm around my middle, pale skin alongside tan, sinewy strength alongside supple muscle. Now it slides down. Fingers unfurl, advance, slip between my folds just like hers did not that long ago, find my clitoris which she circumnavigated, touch-

A breath leaves me; reflexive, remnant of how I used to do this before I was turned. I push forward into my own touch, then back into hers, struggling to find a rhythm before settling into the one she offers me. I fall apart in moments, with a gasped little wail and her arm tightening around me, holding me to her, and her eyes locked onto mine in the mirror. I fall limp against her and she catches my weight, bends and finds my knees with a hand still slick from where it just was, straightens and lifts me – my eyes linger on the two of us in the mirror until her motion turns my head, then they ghost over her features until they find her gaze.

Another gasp leaves me at recognizing the love in her eyes. My arms come up to circle her neck and I press myself into her hold; she carries me to the bed and sits, pulling me into her lap and tightening our embrace as I find myself crying, spilling tears that surprise me but not her, it would seem.

She croons reassurance to me as she holds me tight, skin to skin.

She loves me – she wraps me in her love, suffuses my entire self with the strength and size and warmth of what she feels for me. I do my best to love her back as strongly as I can, with all that my battered and bruised soul will bring forth. She tells me we are evenly matched; I am not so sure, but she claims she is content, happy with what I lay before her.

Tonight, what I lay before her is myself.

And she-

When I do these things to her, I cannot help but name it acts of worship. And here she is, anointing me with equal reverence, with adoration I feel undeserving of but which she offers freely, unreserved and without condition. I am prone now, on my back and open to her ministrations; her mouth, tongue, fingers stoke my body’s fire with few of the blunders that mar first encounters of these kinds in partners less attuned to each other. She is attuned to me. That has always been true, and it benefits us both now; she can feel confident of what she does to me, and I can let myself fall into what she does to me, and fall I do.

Together we discover that Myka asserting her greater strength is deliciously arousing. She holds my hands above my head, my wrists caught between her long, strong fingers – if she were human, the notion of her captivating me would be laughable, but she is not, and she holds me with an ease, an assurance that has hot desire pooling between my thighs. Her other hand dives precisely there, strumming me like a string pulled tight between her two extremities. She enters me with confidence; two fingers, then three, now that I have grown accustomed to how she will fill me. She puts her hips behind her strokes until the bed moves underneath us; long and slow and inexorable as the pull of the moon on the world’s waters she plunges into me and I arch into her body, so strong and lithe and capable. Her thumb finds my clitoris, rubbing circles that both contrast and complement her thrusts in their lightness; together the two sensations build me rapidly towards my release. Then her other hand pushes down on my wrists, extending my arms until my muscles are stretched to a delicious burn, her mouth finds my ear again, and I begin to shake underneath her as orgasm takes me.

She keeps going – another approach she has learned from me – plunges into me deep and forceful and build me up to a paroxysm even stronger than the one before, whispering words of encouragement and praise into my ear even as she licks into its folds and drives me wild. My thoughts lose cohesion and my limbs any semblance of coordination as I come apart to her ministrations; my mouth latches on to where her neck meets her shoulder and she bucks into me, her own movements growing wild und barely controlled for a moment. Then her body moves above me, her thrusts change angle until she is moaning too; an unfettered, grateful sound that wakes a renewed hunger within me. My hips rise to meet her, my legs spread to take her in, in, in, my mouth sucks in her skin and my tongue pushes against it; I can feel her pulse thundering-

“Do it,” she says. “Please.” Her voice is urgent, raw; her head lolls loosely down from her shoulders as she hovers above me on her elbow.

I sink my fangs into her.

Her taste, so sweet, so alive, fills my senses; she moans, long and loose and loud. She thrusts into me; my whole body arches to welcome her. She remains buried within me, fingers moving against my most sensitive spot, and I buck to take her deeper, focused on that connection more than on the blood on my tongue, the blood that her heart, her strong, loving, caring heart, is pumping into me. I drink it down but I do not actively suck; I simply take what she is giving me, in more ways than one, and I relish, relish, relish the sensations I am drowning in: her sweet, sweet blood, her fingers fluttering within me, touching, filling, pulsing, pushing; her thumb on my clit mirroring the push from the outside, strumming this plexus of nerves at one end and the other just like her hands are holding me captive between them. I am at her mercy as surely as she is at mine: my tongue swirls across the skin that my fangs have pierced and she shudders out another moan; she grinds her own center against the heel of her hand which pushes her fingers deeper into me, and sends us both into oblivion.