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 fiancée), 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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.