Monday, May 27, 2013

Chapter 4: Labeled

During the early months of her pregnancy, Delilah struggles with acute nausea and debilitating headaches almost every single day, and the sudden influx of hormones coursing through her system often leaves her feeling tired and cranky. Most mornings, she doesn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone go to the studio or perform on stage with her band.

Throughout these challenging first few weeks, Kieran devotes himself wholeheartedly to helping Delilah whenever he can, and despite her bad mood and short temper the friends grow closer than ever before.

“What are you reading?” Delilah asks one lazy Sunday afternoon as she quietly comes up behind him.

Kieran jumps at the sound of her voice and frantically attempts to close the browser, but in his panic he fumbles with the mouse and misses the “X”.

Frowning, Delilah folds her arms across her chest and glares at him irritably. “Houses? Really? Are you in the market, Kieran?” she demands.

“Don’t look at me like that!” he snaps, sounding almost sheepish in his embarrassment. “I just thought that… You know, with the baby coming… You might need a bigger place, and…” Kieran sighs and rubs his head anxiously. “I didn’t want to ask you this way.”

“Ask me what?” she replies stiffly.

“I already spend most of my time over here, Lila,” he begins with a nervous smile. “And when the baby arrives, I imagine I’ll be here even more often. So, I thought that perhaps we could, I don’t know, move in together or something…”

Tilting his head back, Delilah traces her hand along the edge of his rough, unshaven jaw. “Why do you care?” she scowls. “You aren’t the father of this baby, Kieran. You aren’t my husband. You aren’t even my boyfriend. You have no obligation to me or my child. So I repeat- Why do you even care?”

“So now I need a label to care about you?” he exclaims. “I don’t give a damn if that kid shares my blood or not. I want to be its father, Lila. I want to be your boyfriend and someday, someday soon I hope, your husband too. I don’t understand why you keep pushing me away. You said that you love me, so why can’t we be together?”

But Delilah has no answer for him. She never has an answer for him, so she just sighs moodily and changes the subject. “I haven’t told Beau yet,” she says as she idly runs her fingers through his hair. “I don’t think I’m going to either.”

Kieran frowns. “He has a right to know, Delilah. He’s just as much a parent to that baby as you are.”

“But I don’t want to get him involved,” she pouts.

“Sooner or later he’s going to find out,” Kieran reasons. “It’ll be easier for everyone if the news comes directly from you.”

“I’m going to take a nap,” Delilah announces, pointedly deflecting his argument. “Don’t do anymore house hunting while I’m asleep.”

If Kieran had his way, he’d happily spend every night cuddling with Lila on the sofa at home, but she refuses to stay cooped up in a “shoddy old apartment drinking cheap wine and gossiping about their neighbors’ love lives like that crotchety old married couple who lives downstairs”. So, with no other plans and nothing better to do, the pair find themselves back at their old high school hangout, a loud and brightly colored arcade located just outside downtown Jericho.

“Can you drop it please?” Delilah exclaims when Kieran attempts to bring up their living arrangements yet again that night. “The baby doesn’t need a father. I will be its father.”

Kieran smirks, his eyes twinkling in amusement. “Must you always be so stubborn, my love?” he laughs.

“Don’t call me that,” Lila snaps with a withering glare. “I am perfectly capable of raising this child without you, Kieran.”

Sighing, he pauses the game and looks straight up into her stormy violet eyes. “Yes, yes you are,” he agrees. “And I have no doubt that you will make a wonderful mother, Delilah, but until you stop running away from reality and start facing your problems head on that baby will need a father figure in its life. Let me be there for you, my love. Let me be there for both of you.”

“And what do I owe you for that fascinating and insightful lecture, Dr. Everard?” Delilah glowers. “Or is the counseling session free today?”

Kieran frowns. “You didn’t hear a single word I said, did you?”

“My brain shut down once I realized you were talking psycho-babble at me again,” she retorts crossly.

Shaking his head in resignation, Kieran turns his attention back to the game. He doesn’t want to start a fight tonight, and he knows that if he continues to push her she’ll just completely shut down on him.

Tired and ready to call it quits, the friends prepare to head home, but before they get to the door Delilah stops suddenly and grabs Kieran’s hand.

“I want a picture,” she explains as she pulls out her phone.

“Of what?” he asks.

“Of us!” she grins enthusiastically.

Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, Kieran turns to say something to her, but before he gets a chance Delilah presses her lips against his in a surprisingly public display of affection.

“Oh, it turned out awesome!” she giggles as she flips to the photo.

“Let me see,” Kieran says.

“Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all,” he chuckles. “I must admit that I look pretty badass with such a hot chick on my arm.”

Delilah punches him indignantly, but she can’t resist smiling at his lame attempt at a compliment. “I’ll text it to you,” she decides. “That way we can both have a copy.”

As the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months, life in Jericho drifts by in uneventful harmony. Despite her steadfast insistence that she doesn’t need, let alone want, him around, Delilah grows increasingly dependent on Kieran, not only for his help around the house and with the band but for his company and friendship, his tender words and gentle affection, his unwavering support and unconditional love. Tonight in particular she welcomes his soothing presence.

“Bexley wants to speak with me tomorrow,” Delilah sighs as she snuggles up against his chest. “She said that we need to discuss my figure.”

Kieran nods. Even with her excruciatingly careful efforts to hide it, Lila’s baby bump has definitely begun to show, and they both knew that it was only a matter of time before their bosses at the record label noticed her ill-fitting clothes. “What are you going to tell her?” he asks.

“The truth,” she replies with a contented smile. “That I’m pregnant and the band will just have to live without me for a few months.”

“Yes, well, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Bexley confesses the next day when Delilah tells her the news. “I’ve been suspicious for quite a while now, ever since you turned down that swimsuit photo op last month. Who is the baby’s father?”

Delilah freezes, her eyes widening with panic. She wasn’t expecting Bexley to be so blunt, and the question catches her off guard. It’s probably my ex-boyfriend’s kid, but honestly it could belong to any number of other men, including my band mate Kieran. You know, the guy you explicitly forbid to get involved with me... “I’m, uh- He’s a- You wouldn’t recognize his name,” Delilah blurts out.

“Try me,” Bexley retorts coolly.

Delilah flinches.  “I’d, uh, I’d rather not say…” she whispers faintly.

Bexley’s eyes narrow into angry little slits. “Delilah, dear, if you can’t trust me with a harmless little piece of information such as that, then I’m afraid that my job as your manager is doomed to failure. I’d hate to put an expectant mother out on the street, but we have girls lining up around the block to take your place, many of whom actually know how to keep their legs closed…”

Whether it’s her pregnancy hormones, the threat of losing her dream job, or Bexley’s cheap jab at her less than pristine reputation, she isn’t sure, but whatever the cause Delilah breaks down into hysterical sobs right there in her boss’s office.

“Delilah, dear, calm down,” Bexley scolds with an uneasy laugh. “I’m just as eager to break in a new lead vocalist as you are to find another job, and besides, your album is selling well right now and Roscoe quite likes you for some reason. However, as your manager it’s my responsibility to cultivate and maintain your image, and in order to do so I need to know exactly what I’m dealing with here. I need to know the name of your baby's daddy.”

Wiping her eyes, Delilah glances up miserably. “I’m not entirely sure,” she sniffs, “but I think it probably belongs to Beau.”

Bexley’s eyebrows shoot up. “Beau Henderson?” she asks. “The actor you were dating last summer?”

Lila nods.

“Interesting,” she purrs, suddenly sounding much more upbeat. “You should go home and rest, Delilah dear, while I take care of the announcement. There’s already been some speculation about your, uh, condition in the press, but obviously we have yet to confirm anything.”

“You won’t mention Beau though, will you?” Delilah pleads. “I haven’t told him yet, and I really don’t want him to find out through the tabloids.”

“Don’t worry,” Bexley smirks. “I wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t in your best interest.”

Across town, Kieran attends his weekly lessons with Phineas Ellsworth, the young professor who tested Delilah’s magic a few months back. Atticus, Kieran’s mentor and Delilah’s maternal grandfather, insisted that he continue his training under the supervision of the more experienced mage, and so once a week Kieran drops by the Ellsworth residence to practice his spells.

However, after just a few months of these sessions Kieran outgrew his instructor’s teachings, and Phineas decided to let him train on his own, turning the visits into little more than a formality. Still, Kieran enjoys spending time with the well-studied mage, and he finds Phineas’ stories about the secretive world of magic fascinating and informative.

“You didn’t know?!” Phineas exclaims in a hushed tone when Kieran asks him about the rigid ban on human mage marriages. “The law came into being around the time of the Great Plague, during the darkest of the Dark Days when the epidemic was wiping out hundreds upon thousands of people every month. Facing extensive protests and an ugly civil war, the ruling monarch, King Aylwin, became desperate to find someone, anyone, to blame for the deadly outbreak, and in his fear he turned on us magic folk, claiming that we started the plague. He ordered anyone suspected of using witchcraft to be tried and hung, and so we were forced to flee our homes and hide our powers in order to escape the massacre. The mage’s council forbade interbreeding with humans as a way to further distance the community from our bloodthirsty neighbors, and over the years the custom became ingrained in our culture. I admit, to an outsider it can seem a bit dated by today’s standards, but with the widespread unrest currently sweeping through the community nobody would dare challenge such a familiar and well-established law right now.”

Kieran frowns. “Unrest?” he repeats.

Phineas nods solemnly. “Oh yes, and it’s reached a fever pitch as of late.”

“What happened?”

Lowering his voice to a soft whisper, Phineas leans in and locks eyes with Kieran. “Most mages in the community refuse to discuss it, and those who will usually condemn it as a lie. However, denial never fixed anything, and I believe, as do many of our foremost academics, that this problem demands awareness and attention. What I say here should not be repeated thoughtlessly or discussed within the earshot of strangers,” he warns in a somber tone.

Kieran nods in agreement, and Phineas begins his tale.

“Several centuries ago, a pair of scholars started investigating a perceived decline in the raw power of magic throughout the known world, and they gathered and compiled encyclopedias full of data. They were never able to substantiate their hypothesis, however, but some five hundred years later one of our leading analytical minds at the university in Arundel discovered their research. Professor Cyrus Delmar, my mentor as a matter of fact, reopened the study, and using current numbers he conclusively proved their theory of magic decay. He even went so far as to predict that in another five hundred years or so, there won’t be any magic left in the world at all.”

“Wow, that’s intense,” Kieran breathes.

“Quite,” Phineas agrees. “Professor Delmar just recently released his findings to the public last year, and it set off quite a buzz throughout the community. People have long speculated about such a phenomenon, but there were never any hard figures to back it up. Naturally, this new information makes the community extremely uneasy, especially as no one knows what’s causing this rapid disintegration of power or how we can stop it.”

With his mind still churning from his conversation with Phineas earlier in the afternoon, Kieran welcomes the thought cleansing peace of Delilah’s latest fad, candle-lit meditation sessions on the living room floor.

“You’re tense tonight,” she notices as he settles down beside her.

“Long day.”

“Everything okay?” she asks.

Kieran grunts indifferently.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Aren’t we supposed to be silent when we do this?” he retorts.

Delilah opens her eyes and glares at him. “I’m bored,” she complains. “Besides, you’re distracting me.”

“How?! I haven’t said a word.”

“You took your shirt off again. You know what that does to me.”

With a grin, Kieran leans back and winks at her enticingly. “Maybe that’s why I did it,” he smirks.

Delilah groans and shuts her eyes again. “Now you’re just being cruel. Besides, wasn’t the ‘no sex until I commit’ rule your great idea?”

Kieran laughs. While he hadn’t phrased it quite that way, he did make it clear that their relationship was strictly nonsexual until she agreed that they were officially and exclusively a couple. “I can always make an exception…” he replies mischievously.

Delilah’s eyes fly open. “Really?” she breathes.

Coming up behind her, Kieran kisses her deeply. “I miss you,” he murmurs when they break apart. “And I’m sick and tired of waiting for you to make up your mind.”

With a satisfied moan, Delilah turns around to face him. “You don’t have to wait any longer,” she whispers. “I’ve decided. I’m ready, Kieran. I’ll be your girlfriend.”

As her words gradually sink in, Kieran struggles to contain the explosion of happiness ricocheting through his chest. My girlfriend, he thinks with a thrilling jolt. After so many years of waiting, he can finally call her his girlfriend.

“And I think you should move in with me,” he hears her say. “I don’t want to be alone any longer.”

“Of course, Lila,” he murmurs as he leans down to kiss her. “You know I will.”

They make love that night, sweet and slow and unhurried love, and for the first time Delilah notices how well they move together, almost as though he can read her thoughts and anticipate her actions.

When Kieran wakes up the following morning to find Delilah still fast asleep beside him on the bed, he feels blissfully relieved. After his two previous, heartbreaking experiences with her, he feared that she might have changed her mind and snuck out sometime last night, but he’s never been so happy to be wrong. She’s in it for good this time; he’s absolutely certain of it.

The couple drops by Rigby and Heidi’s new apartment later that morning, and they don’t make any effort to conceal their relationship status from Delilah's brother and sister-in-law, even cuddling together on the sofa before lunch. At first, Rigby seems genuinely taken aback by how openly affectionate they are toward each other, but he wisely holds his tongue and goes with the flow.

His wife Heidi, however, proves far less tactful.

“Darling, can you pass the salt?” Kieran asks as they sit down for lunch a short while later.

“Darling?!” Heidi sputters and chokes. “But, Lila, you’re not dating… I mean, what about B-”

Rigby kicks her under the table. “Heidi and I weren’t aware that you two were an item, but congratulations! That’s exciting news, isn’t it dear?” he adds with a meaningful glance at his wife.

“Oh, um, yes. Quite exciting. Thrilling even.” She smiles at them, but it looks rigid and forced.

Delilah laughs and squeezes Kieran’s hand. “Yeah, I guess so,” she replies before turning back to her meal.

Kieran, however, sees right through their act, but he decides not to push it right now. He has more important matters to worry about today, like telling his roommate Austin that he’s moving out of their shared apartment next week.

After lunch, the couple says goodbye to their friends and leaves. Delilah has some errands to run and Kieran wants to see if Austin is home, so they go their separate ways, making plans to meet back at Delilah’s place later that night.

Unfortunately, it isn’t Kieran’s cheerful face that greets Delilah at her doorstep when she gets home. While she can’t quite make out his expression through the pouring rain, Delilah can tell that Beau Henderson doesn’t look pleased. Not pleased at all.

Challenge Notes:

Blargh. Sorry for the walls of text. :| I didn’t realize how bad it was until I typed it up in blogger, and I’m too lazy to go back in game and take more pictures. My apologies.

So, for those of you who didn’t skim right through the ridiculously long paragraphs, I’m curious what you think! Some more of the overarching plot came out this chapter, and much, much more will be revealed in my next update. I have some (hopefully) very exciting things planned for Delilah and Kieran, and I’m dredging up some old characters from Luca’s generation. I haven’t forgotten about anyone, by the way, it’s just taken me six months to get back to them. o_o

Also, this is turning out to be the longest goddamn pregnancy ever. Just as a warning, I’m using the pregnancy controller mod to try and keep Delilah’s baby bump consistent, but it’s a lot more challenging than I realized it would be. Prepare for some strange fluctuations in the size of her belly. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chapter 3: Those Three Little Words

As she climbs the final steps up to the top of the wall, Delilah gasps in astonishment at the breathtaking views stretching out before her.

“Oh, Kieran!” she cries. “It’s magnificent!”

Kieran doesn’t even bother to turn around, preferring to gaze upon Delilah’s awe-struck smile instead. “I love it up here,” he tells her quietly. “This old fortress has been abandoned for years now, and the hike is too long and arduous for most of the villagers to trouble with it. I come here to think sometimes when I want to be alone.”

Delilah nods and walks over to the edge of the crumbling old wall. “It makes you feel so insignificant,” she whispers, “standing beside such majesty.”

Coming up behind her, Kieran gently runs his hand along her smooth, delicate shoulder. “You will never be insignificant to me,” he murmurs in her ear. “Never.”

Delilah feels a shiver course through her body as Kieran’s warm hand lightly caresses her exposed skin. Sighing, she leans against him and allows her worries to float away with the afternoon breeze. Here in her dreams, she can forget about all her insecurities and doubts, brush off her fear of dependency and commitment, and ignore the voice in her head urging her to run. Here in her dreams, she can tell him how she truly feels. She can say those three elusive little words that so stubbornly evade her in the real world.

“I love you, Kieran,” she breathes.

Kieran awakens from his dream with a start, his mind suddenly in overdrive. As the blissful memory of last night slowly trickles back to him, he realizes with a heart wrenching jolt that he is bitterly, painfully alone. Delilah is long gone, her side of the bed as cold and empty as the knot in his stomach.

Kieran doesn’t get a chance to speak with her until after the band’s concert that evening. Roscoe, their agent, wanted to drum up some local interest in the group before their first album comes out late next month, and so he booked them for a weeklong charity gig at a night club downtown.

With Delilah’s smooth vocals and energetic stage presence, Kieran’s expert guitar and keyboard skills, Rigby’s much improved drumming, and Austin’s… enthusiasm, the band thoroughly impresses the audience, charming even their most disparaging critics.

After several failed attempts to get Delilah alone, Kieran finally manages to corner her in her dressing room during intermission.

“Last night?” she asks, feigning surprise. “What about it?”

Kieran feels his stomach drop. He knows that look in her eyes all too well, and he can sense the cold fear lurking behind her facade of innocence. “Lila…” he frowns. “Don’t do this.”

“Do what?” She giggles, but her voice sounds just a little too high, too tight. “You’re the one who wanted to talk to me…”

“You were gone when I woke up this morning.” He states it matter-of-factly, with no hint of anger or hostility.

“I had an early photo shoot, and I didn’t want to bother you,” she replies, trying to sound relaxed and carefree.

Kieran, however, isn’t fooled. “Lila…” he begins.

Placing her hands on her hips, Delilah assumes a defensive stance. “I broke up with Beau this afternoon,” she tells him bluntly. “I said that I didn’t want to be tied down, and I explained to him that I’m not looking for a serious relationship right now.”

Kieran’s face brightens slightly at the news of her breakup, but Delilah doesn’t give him a chance to cut in. “I’m not looking for a relationship, Kieran,” she repeats again. “Let’s just be friends, okay?”

Kieran stands there silently for what feels like hours, his heart sinking under the crippling weight of her rejection. Friends. The word echoes through his mind like a jingle from a catchy radio commercial, only with each repetition a fresh wave of pain rips through his chest.

Unable to watch his heart break any longer, Delilah silently turns to leave, but Kieran grabs her arm before she can slip away.

“Did last night mean nothing to you?” he demands, his voice cracking slightly. “Do I mean nothing to you?” he adds softly.

“It was a mistake, Kieran!” she snaps. “Can’t we just forget it ever happened and go back to the way things were?”

“I love you, Lila! I-”

“Don’t say that!” she screams. “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

“You’re the one making this hard!” he exclaims. “You’re so terrified of standing on your own two feet that you let people walk all over you, yet you’re too stubborn, too proud, to admit that you might actually need me, that you might actually love me, too!”

Furiously tearing her arm out of his grasp, Delilah turns around and storms away.

Exhausted, dejected, and overwhelmed, she eventually makes her way back to her apartment after the show, but sleep eludes her that night as she replays her fight with Kieran over and over again in her head.

For the rest of the week, Delilah obstinately ignores him, filling the piercing loneliness with a new fling instead, the first of many over the following weeks.

These relationships, these flings, never last long, one or two dates at the most. They start with a bad pick up line, some light flirting, a couple of drinks, and a bit of dancing, and they end in a strange apartment with a strange man wrapped up between her legs.

In the morning, regret and self-loathing quickly replace any lingering sense of pleasure or satisfaction from the night before.

Sometimes, rarely, the guy disappears after their evening together, but more often than not a few days later Delilah receives the dreaded phone call. He wants more from her than a single night, another date perhaps or a friends-with-benefits type of arrangement or simply to see how she is doing, but her response never varies. She was only looking for once, so please don’t call again.

Rejection stings no matter the circumstances, and after every fling, every phone call, every letdown comes the inevitable backlash, the name-calling and slut shaming, the snide remarks and callous jabs. And every time she hangs up the phone, after every insult and every putdown, Delilah finds herself falling back into Kieran’s ready arms.

“Kiss me,” she pleads one night after a particularly nasty encounter.

Kieran freezes, his eyes glued to her sad, watery gaze. It’s been just over a month since they slept together, four brutal weeks since Delilah tore up his heart and threw away the pieces, but Kieran’s feelings for her remain unchanged. He loves her with every ounce of his being, and he craves the touch of her skin and the taste of her lips like a drowning man craves air.

And so he kisses her, recklessly shoving aside all his many, many reservations to enjoy these few precious moments with her when he can earnestly fool himself into believing that she loves him too.

Her passion spent, Delilah quickly falls asleep to the soothing sounds of his beating heart, but Kieran forces himself to remain awake all night, clinging to her with the desperate hope that this time will be different, that this time she’ll stay.

When she leaves the next morning without so much as a second glance, Kieran tries not to let his disappointment consume him. He should have known better, really. He should have known that every time he kisses her, every time he holds her, touches her, makes love to her, she pulls further away from him, that by sleeping with her he’s irrevocably damaging their relationship. He should have seen a pattern in her bad decisions and impulsive behavior, recognized the cycle of self-destruction currently dictating her actions, understood that she needs a friend right now, not a lover.

But still, watching Delilah make out with another man right in front of him a few nights later ignites a fire deep within his chest, a jealous blaze that threatens to burn him up from the inside out.

Rigby worries about his roommate often these days. He may be Delilah’s stepbrother, but he and Kieran are friends, best friends even, and he hates to see him in so much pain. Between Kieran’s unusually bad mood, abnormally short temper, and numerous, unexplained disappearances, Rigby knows that his friend has a girl. He just hopes that whoever she is understands Kieran’s sensitive, compassionate nature and doesn’t take advantage of his fierce loyalty, but if this girl is, as he suspects she is, his sister Delilah, Rigby has a sinking feeling that his buddy’s in for a rude awakening.

Two long weeks, three major meltdowns, and countless one night stands later, Delilah feels her already chaotic world come crashing down around her ears. Tired of the drama, the pain, and the heartbreak, Kieran almost doesn’t come over when she calls, but the raw desperation in her voice alarms him.

Walking into her apartment, Kieran immediately senses her despondency, but it isn’t until he finds her lying on the bathroom floor huddled up beside the toilet that he realizes the cause of her anguish. With a sickening lump in his stomach, Kieran crouches down beside her just as another wave of nausea overtakes her worryingly frail frame.

“K-Kieran,” she stammers, struggling to speak through her tears. “I-I-I’m- I'm-” But the word refuses to leave her lips, and she breaks down into another bout of violent sobbing.

Pulling her into his lap, Kieran runs his hand up and down her back as he murmurs comforting words of sweet nothing in her ear.

“B-But you d-don’t understand!” she cries when he tries to tell her that it will all be okay. “I-I’m-I’m-”

“Shhh,” he soothes. “I know, my love. I know. I’ll drive you to the doctor this afternoon, and we can talk about the rest later.”

“K-Kieran?” Delilah whispers after she’s regained more of her composure.

“Yes, Lila?” he murmurs absently.

Taking a deep breath, Lila snuggles her head into his shoulder and says, “I-I love you.”

Challenge Notes:

So… Unhealthy, pathetic, and depressing? Or sweet and poignant in a misguided sort of way? ;)

I don’t know how clear that all was, but there are a couple of things that I want to address before anyone decides to thrash Delilah and/or Kieran in the comments. You are more than welcome to do so, of course, but just hear me out first. To start with, Delilah has some serious issues that she needs to work through, insecurities and fears that stem from her mother abandoning her as a toddler as well as her own inborn self-esteem problems. Although she does not have many memories of Maeve (her mom) from her toddler years, Luca (her father) never kept it a secret from Delilah that Emily (her eventual stepmother) was not her biological parent and Maeve wanted nothing to do with her or their family. Actually, he was probably pretty aggressive about it, as he was deeply hurt by Maeve’s sudden departure and either consciously or subconsciously passed on those negative vibes to their daughter. As far as her esteem issues go, well, in my opinion some people are just more prone to internalize their anxieties and self-doubt, and during her childhood and especially her teenage years I tried to show cracks forming in Delilah’s veil of confidence. She hid her insecurities quite well though, but seeing as no one really knew how she was feeling Lila became like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. With every additional pressure, each new stress, her fuse grew shorter and shorter, until finally she just shattered from the strain and went into full-blown self-destruct mode (hints all the casual sex and one night stands). Unfortunately for Kieran, the sudden transition of their relationship from platonic to physical, and the subsequent loss of their comfortable and familiar friendship, is what finally triggered Lila’s implosion.

Now, Kieran admittedly did not handle her meltdown very well, and you could even argue that he took advantage of the situation to get in her pants. However, I don’t think he fully realized the extent of her condition until after they slept together the second time, and by that point he’d become so embroiled in his own emotions and heartbreak that he had trouble stepping back and seeing just how desperate Delilah had become. All Kieran knew is that he loved her, and she had rejected him. The pain blinded him, at least for a little while, to Delilah’s own problems.

Sorry for the long-winded explanation! I just really hope that at least some of that came through in the story itself. I’m trying to work on creating better characters this generation, and so I decided to devote this entire chapter to developing Delilah’s personality.

But anyway, enough of that. =) Despite how it may seem, Delilah’s dream at the beginning of the chapter was not merely an excuse to show off Kieran or the drop dead gorgeous world of Praaven (a work-in-progress by the insanely talented jje1000, found here). They do, in fact, mean something, and they are (or will be) important at some point. Just as a heads up.

So, any guesses as to who her baby daddy is? >:)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chapter 2: Sweet Reality

With a contented sigh, Lila closes her eyes and runs her fingers along the ridges of his abdomen, letting her hand rise and fall to the rhythm of his breath. His soft scent, like a spring morning by the seaside, mixes with the smell of the rain pouring down outside as he gently wraps his arm around her delicate waist.

“I love you,” he murmurs, his voice barely louder than the rumbling of the storm.

Lila’s eyes flutter open, and she smiles, savoring the sound of those three beautiful words. “I love you too,” she whispers as she leans over to kiss him.

Pulling her on top of him, Kieran glances up skeptically. “You… You do?” he asks.

He sounds surprised almost, but Delilah barely even notices. It just doesn’t seem to matter right now. She nods and kisses him again, softly pressing her lips against his.

Kieran stiffens slightly as Lila’s hands wander suggestively down his body, her breasts brushing ever so lightly across his hips. She usually leaves by now, disappearing back into the deepest crevices of his desires, but tonight she’s stayed longer than she ever has before. “We can’t,” he begins, pushing aside her eager caresses.

Lila looks startled by his refusal. “Why not?”

“They’re coming,” he tries to explain. “My father, he can’t know about you.” Kieran glances outside as a lightning bolt cracks across the night sky. He’s been through this countless times before, and he knows exactly what that means. Atticus will be here any minute now, but still Delilah remains.

Kieran rises to his feet and begins to dress, watching her with uneasy eyes. Why hasn’t she left yet?

“At least put some clothes on,” he implores.

Delilah sighs and reluctantly reaches for her dress. She doesn’t understand Kieran’s sudden change of mood, and in her current haze his urgency seems excessive. “But why can’t we-?”

A voice, loud and angry, echoes through the barn, cutting her off short. “KIERAN!” it calls. “I’m going to rip you to pieces, you impertinent pox-marked lout! I shall cut off your head and feed your shriveled flea-bitten remains to the maggots!”

“Hide,” Kieran whispers, pushing Delilah behind a stack of hay. “They can’t know you’re here!”

“You lied to me!” the man shouts. “You told me that you could rid us of this plague, but you have failed! For two days and two nights, it has rained over our lands, but still our people die!”

Delilah frowns. Why does that man look so familiar? She's sure she has seen his face before…

“I said I would cure it, and I will,” Kieran retorts. “The antidote will take some time, but-”

“Time?” he scoffs. “You’ve had enough time. Tell me, boy, why should I hide you any longer? The bounty on your head is large enough to entice even the most charitable of souls, and I-”

Delilah awakens with a start, only to find herself safely curled up at home next to her boyfriend Beau. As her surroundings begin to come into focus, the realization slowly dawns on her. It was just a dream.

At first, she can recall every single detail with absolute clarity, from the pounding of the rain to the heat of the fire, but as the minutes tick by the fragile memory starts slipping away from her like sand through a sieve, until finally all she remembers clearly is Kieran.

Kieran, she sighs wistfully. She can still see the hunger in his sparkling blue eyes, hear the pleasure in his satisfied moans, still feel their bodies intertwined in blissful ecstasy. Burying her face in a pillow, Delilah tries to ignore the embarrassment and confusion creeping into the back of her mind, but lying next to another man she feels dishonest, disloyal, and downright dirty for allowing herself to dwell on such thoughts. It was just a dream, she reminds herself again. Just a harmless, pointless dream.

Despite her steadfast insistence that it meant absolutely nothing to her, Delilah decides to avoid Kieran as much as possible over the following few weeks in the desperate hope of pushing him and her infuriatingly inappropriate fantasies out of her head, and for the most part her plan seems to work. Until today, that is.

“I don’t know why I need to come,” Delilah pouts.

Kieran sighs, struggling to hide his exasperation. Her attempts to evade him have been about as subtle as an elephant in a neon pink tutu, and he feels hurt and confused by her recent aloof behavior.

“You promised, Lila,” he replies impatiently.

Delilah glowers at him but remains quiet. She wouldn’t break a promise to Kieran no matter how uncomfortable it makes her.

A lanky man with a goofy grin and intelligent green eyes opens the door and ushers them inside, greeting Kieran and Delilah with an enthusiastic handshake and nearly giddy excitement.

“Welcome, welcome!” he sings. “Welcome to my humble abode! You must be Kieran,” he says, carefully studying the younger man’s face. Once satisfied, however, he turns his full attention to Delilah, and taking her hand in his the man bows down and sweeps his lips across the tips of her fingers. “And you, my dear, must be the lovely Delilah that I have heard so much about. Welcome! Welcome to you both. I am Professor Ellsworth, but you may call me Phineas.”

Stunned into silence by his grand gesture, Delilah can merely nod and blush at his flamboyant greeting.

“Thank you, Phineas,” Kieran replies, stepping between him and Lila in an almost protective manner. “I take it you’ve spoken with Atticus?”

“Indeed,” Phineas nods solemnly as he tears his eyes away from Delilah. “I speak with Atticus quite often these days, but let’s not discuss business matters here. Shall we?” he smiles, motioning toward the living room.

“Your grandfather talks about you quite a lot, Kieran,” Phineas continues once they’re all comfortably seated in the parlor. “He was thoroughly impressed with the progress you made over the summer, and he firmly believes that you have more potential than any mage he’s ever worked with.” Chuckling at the memory, Phineas presses on. “He was quite adamant that I convince you to move back to Arundel to study at the university full-time.”

Delilah frowns, shifting uneasily. Kieran never mentioned a university to her before, and the thought of him leaving Jericho makes her cringe. “Atticus is my grandfather,” she tells Phineas. “Kieran is just a-”

“Just a distant cousin,” Kieran interrupts with a pointed glance in Lila’s direction. “Atticus always thought of me as a grandson, but I am only related to him through his marriage to Esme.”

Phineas scratches his chin, idly pondering this new bit of information. “So you are Esme’s grandchild?” he asks at last.

Kieran shakes his head. “Esme’s sister's niece’s cousin’s son. It’s a bit of a twisted family tree,” he explains, lying with such effortless charm that Delilah almost believes the story herself.

Phineas, too, seems to buy Kieran’s tale, and so he allows the conversation to drift to other topics.

“So, Delilah,” he says after a brief discussion about Jericho’s unusually rainy summer. “Atticus informs me that you’ve never had your powers formally tested before. Why is that?”

Lila looks taken aback by the question. “I, uh- I don’t have much magic,” she replies, glaring at Kieran irritably. He warned her not to say anything about her human father, but other than that Kieran gave her no instructions or advice.

Phineas frowns. “Yes, well, I suppose it isn’t that uncommon for mages who live outside the capital to skip their tests. Still, I never thought that Atticus would approve of such apathy…”

“Atticus was not in direct contact with our family for several years,” Kieran retorts. “It was not his decision to make.”

Phineas nods in understanding and gets up to poke the fire. “I have known Atticus since I was a little boy,” he tells them with an amicable grin, “but some days I feel like I barely know the man at all. Your grandfather has always been quite a mystery to me, Delilah, a mystery I'm eager to solve.”

Noticing Kieran’s tense stare, Delilah decides to change the subject. “Yes, well, shall we get on with it?” she asks.

“Ah, of course! The test. Come here, Delilah dear, and we can-”

“Phineas!” A female voice calls out suddenly. “Phineas, where are you?”

Kieran jumps to his feet as a wispy young woman strolls into the room.

“Honey, the grocery store was an absolute zoo! I couldn’t find any fresh basil, and they were all out of con-” Stopping short, she turns to look at her guests.

“You didn’t tell me we had company,” she giggles as Phineas gives her a peck on the cheek.

“Eva, honey, this is Kieran and Delilah,” Phineas announces cheerfully as Kieran reaches out to shake her hand. “Kieran, Delilah, this is my wife Eva.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Kieran mumbles awkwardly, feeling inordinately shy around the pretty blonde.

Delilah doesn’t even bother getting up. With a halfhearted wave, she turns her attention back to Phineas. “Can we get started please?” she demands. “I have a busy day today, and I really can’t hang out here all afternoon…”

“Right, of course,” Phineas chortles. “All you need to do is stand here, like this, and relax your mind. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Taking her hands in his, Phineas begins to weave a binding spell around them both, and within a few moments Delilah falls into a sleep-like trance.

At first, Kieran watches the scene with a mixture of idle curiosity and innocent indifference, but as the spell progresses and their connection deepens he becomes increasingly agitated and annoyed.

Eva, a notorious romantic among her own friends around town, quickly picks up on the jealous vibes emanating from her house guest, and with a sly smile she silently steers Kieran into the kitchen and away from the source of his irritation.

“How long have you two been together?” Eva asks after fixing Kieran a cup of coffee.

Kieran glances up sharply, surprised by the seemingly random question. “What?”

“You and your girlfriend,” Eva repeats. “How long have you two been together?”

“Oh, no, we’re not-”

Eva ignores him. “Because you don’t have to worry about her and my Phineas,” she says with a slight smirk. “I love the goof, and he can be a bit of a flirt sometimes, but I promise you he’s totally harmless. He was a professor back in Arundel, and before that he worked as a TA, so he’s quite familiar with the testing process.”

“In fact,” she continues before Kieran can cut in, “that’s how I met him. He was a grad student studying under my uncle, and I was in one of his classes. It was quite adorable, too, when he finally got up the nerve to ask me out. You see, he didn’t think my uncle would approve, but Uncle Cy didn’t care in the least! The old man can be a bit testy sometimes, but he doesn’t have any kids himself and I think he’s eager for an heir. Not that Phineas and I are ready to start a family yet, of course, but whenever we do I hope we have a son. That way we’d be a shoo-in to inherit part of Cyrus' estate, and I just know he’d choose our kid over my sister’s little brat…”

As Eva babbles on and on, Kieran quickly finds himself growing weary of her grating, high-pitched voice. He’s never been very good at making small talk, but Eva doesn't even notice, too preoccupied listening to the sounds of her own chatter to pay any attention to her guest. To Kieran’s relief, Phineas and Delilah finish up before long, and the friends depart soon thereafter.

Delilah doesn’t see Kieran again until a few nights later at her stepbrother’s engagement party. Due to limited finances and a lack of time and energy, the couple decides to keep the event extremely low-key, only inviting their absolute closest friends. Delilah, for her part, is secretly glad she has an excuse to spend the entire evening away from her boyfriend Beau, even if it means being in the same room as Kieran for a while.

From left to right: Heidi Schmidt (Rigby’s fiancĂ©e), Rigby McKinley (Delilah’s stepbrother), Austin Hayes (bassist in their band), Mia Sinclair (childhood friend of Delilah’s), Delilah McKinley (heir extraordinaire), and Kieran Everard (???).

At the beginning of the party, Lila stubbornly avoids Kieran whenever possible, but as the night progresses she finds herself increasingly drawn to him, even cuddling up next to him when he sits beside her on the sofa. Kieran, for the most part, tries to ignore her confusing and often frustrating behavior, but he can’t deny the tension between them, so thick and palpable that even oblivious Austin can feel the heat in the air.

Unable to stand it any longer, Delilah excuses herself from the party early, claiming that she has a big photo shoot in the morning and needs her beauty sleep.

“I’ll walk you home,” Kieran decides, jumping to his feet as Delilah prepares to leave.

“I don’t need an escort,” she sulks as they stroll down the largely deserted city street. “I’m a big girl now. I can handle myself.”

Kieran chuckles bemusedly. “Perhaps so, but I'm not doing this for you,” he retorts. “It makes me feel better, knowing you are safe.”

Giggling, Delilah jumps on his back. “Well, if you’re going to insist on walking me home, then I think you ought to do all the walking,” she teases. “No point in wearing out two pairs of feet.”

Kieran laughs and shakes his head. “Why do your feet get the free ride?” he asks with a lopsided grin.

“Because you’re nicer than me,” she replies before planting a big, wet kiss on his cheek.

“I don’t know about that,” he counters. “Nice guys never get the girl, and I’ve got the prettiest girl in the world wrapped around my shoulders right now.”

Delilah snorts and quickly hops off his back. “I don’t need the flattery,” she protests.

“I would never tell you something that I don’t wholeheartedly believe,” he responds, his voice low and serious.

Frowning, Delilah folds her arms across her chest and sighs dramatically. They are quite close to her building now, but she doesn’t feel like going home just yet. “Kieran,” she begins, an idea forming in the back of her mind. “Kieran, let’s go swimming!”

Kieran tries to object, but Delilah remains steadfast in her resolve. Practically dragging him behind her, they arrive at a small, sandy beach that sits just down the block from her apartment on the banks of the Kaen-Garen River.

Kieran’s protests grow louder when Delilah tells him just how she plans to go swimming.

“Naked?!” he cries. “Lila, it’s totally illegal! What if someone sees you?! Or worse, what if someone recognizes you?! Do you know how much trouble we could get in if the tabloids photographed you dressed like that?!?!”

“Relax, Kieran!” she calls over her shoulder. “There’s nobody here but us.”

Kieran frowns, glaring at the back of her head. “You don’t know that, Lila. There are paparazzi everywhere.”

“Join me!” Delilah shouts. “The water feels amazing!”

“And get arrested? I think I’m fine right here,” he retorts.

“Ahh, come on Kieran! Don’t be such a killjoy!”


“Can’t you just loosen up and have some fun once in a while?” she cries. “I mean, seriously. I never realized what a drag you were.”

Grumbling the whole time about the outrageous things he does in the name of love (or pride, as the case may be), Kieran strips down to his boxers and wades out into the cold river water.

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” he groans. “Someone is going to see us and get the wrong idea…”

“I don’t care,” Delilah exclaims. “Let them see. My life is no one’s business but my own.”

“And Beau’s,” he counters.

Flipping onto her back, Delilah lets herself drift in the river’s gentle, slow-moving current.

“I don’t love him,” she says as Kieran comes up beside her. “I don’t even like him most of the time.”

Kieran frowns, mulling over her words. “Then why are you still with him?” he asks after a minute.

Delilah shrugs noncommittally. “He says he loves me, that he wants us to get married and start a family together. Heidi tells me that we’re perfect for each other, and Bexley and Roscoe like all the free publicity our relationship gives to the band. It just seems to make everyone else so happy.”

“Everyone but you,” Kieran amends.

Tired, cold, and wet, the friends decide to head for dry land.

(Alternate caption: Kieran quite likes the view from down here...)

As they begin to put their damp, sandy clothes back on, Kieran gets the overwhelming urge to show Delilah just what a great idea skinny dipping was, and at this hour of the night tickling seems like the best revenge.

“Stop!” she shouts, gasping for air. “I’ll say it! I’ll say it!”

Kieran grins and loosens his hold. “I’m waiting,” he tells her with a laugh.

“I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry.”

“And?” he presses.

Delilah sighs. “And-the-next-time-I-want-to-objectify-your-body-all-I-have-to-do-is-ask,” she mumbles.

“That’s right, because I don’t mind sharing the love,” he smirks.

Turning to face him, Delilah carefully studies his bright blue eyes. “Even with a lying, two-faced coward who shamelessly exploits her best friend’s feelings for her in order to cling to some ill-conceived notion that she’s not a worthless pile of dog shit?” she whispers as she fights back a sudden wave of tears.

Kieran freezes, the smile vanishing from his lips.

“Lila, look at me,” he whispers.

“No,” she sobs, hanging her head dejectedly. “I’m s-sorry. I-I shouldn’t have s-said anything. I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately! I just thought…”

“Look at me,” he repeats again, more firmly this time. Running his hand along her wet, tear-stained cheek, Kieran gently turns her face toward him. “It's true," he sighs. "I love you, Lila. I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. I never told you because I was afraid, afraid that I would disappoint you or hurt you or... or lose you. But I was a fool. I was the coward. I- I’m the one who should be apologizing.”

And then, because he's certain he'll never have another chance, he kisses her, lightly brushing his lips against her soft, delicate mouth.

“Come home with me,” Lila murmurs, struggling to speak, struggling to breathe, through the pounding in her chest.

Once they arrive back at her place, Kieran and Delilah spend the rest of the evening tangled up in each other's arms.

...Turning sweet dreams into even sweeter reality.

Challenge Notes:

This is probably my most favorite chapter that I’ve ever written. <3 I’m sorry, I know it got a bit sappy there for a while, but I couldn’t resist. I am a diehard hopeless romantic with no other outlet for my sad addiction besides Sims stories, The Princess Bride, and old I Love Lucy reruns. Seriously though, I’ve been dying to get them together since… forever, and I’m sure most of you saw this coming a mile away. =D

So, to sum up my ramblings, thanks for putting up with my corny writing, and I promise it will get interesting again soon! (As in, I will actually go into detail about how magic works in my world and the "tests" that Lila underwent this chapter and Maeve's death and the stuff that Kieran learned over the summer and how Atticus fits into this whole twisted story and... I think I need to shut up before I give anything important away!)

In other news, Delilah apparently has trouble keeping her clothes on. I didn’t realize it until just now, but it’s been more than three updates since she last went for an entire chapter without taking her shirt off for the camera. =P Also, I know that Lila’s apartment is a peeping Tom’s paradise at the moment, but she can’t afford curtains right now and even if she could she has more important things to spend her money on. Like a toilet that doesn’t overflow every five seconds.

Would anyone find it useful if I were to put together some sort of summary page that goes over the story’s main characters and places and some of the more important plot points? I’ve been toying around with the idea for a while now, but I’m not sure if people would even look at it, let alone read (or at least skim) it. I kind of doubt that my story is really complex enough to warrant writing a cheat sheet, but as the author it’s really hard to tell.

Finally, a blooper I want to share. Why I feel the urge to share it I have no clue, but I just… don’t even… know… what... to say... o_O Words escape me.