Chapter 2: Touching the Flame

Felix faltered for a moment, and then shot back, "Yeah. It's me."

Karst put a hand on her hip and studied his face. "What do you want?"

He'd decided before even knocking on her door that if she gave him a good chance at a direct approach, he'd take it. "The same thing I've wanted every time I came here," Felix said. "And this time I'm not leaving until I get it."

"Ooo, he speaks in riddles," she said in a venomous tone, but she did stand aside to let him in. That, he decided as he worked his snow-dripping boots off, was a point in his favor. "If you're hungry, I've cooked up a delicious meal... potatoes."

He finished stepping out of his boots. The house, heated by a large fire, felt toasty on his feet. "I'll eat anything you cook," he promised, taking off his gloves.

He was rewarded with a burning ember from the fireplace, flung right in his face. He cursed as it singed his cheek.

"Stuff it," she snapped. "You think I'll bend over for your cheap flattery?"

"I'm thinking," Felix said, picking up one of his discarded boots and stomping out the ember so that it wouldn't start a fire, "...that I should say what I feel."

"What you feel..." She sneered. "How pathetic."

"Is it? Because it looks to me like right now, you're feeling something yourself," he retorted. "Anger."

"There's no shame in admitting anger," Karst smiled wickedly, reaching over to take up her scythe from where it leaned against the wall. "Or hate. Or derision. Or hunger for power." She ran a finger along the blade of the scythe, looking at Felix suggestively. "But you, you poor boy, you're not feeling any of those things, are you? You're feeling something that makes you much more vulnerable..."

"Why are you angry?"

"Could it be..." she drawled, fondly clasping her hands onto the handle of her scythe. "...because you allowed my sister to die? Because you betrayed me and saved the life of my enemy, Isaac? Because you left me for dead after lighting Mars Lighthouse, not even looking for my body so as to give me a decent burial?"

"That's all old news," Felix said, and suddenly lunged forward to seize Karst's scythe, tear it from her hands, and fling it across the room. "And it's all bullshit! I couldn't help Menardi against Isaac, I had to protect Sheba! I betrayed your revenge scheme that had nothing to do with our mission, not you! And if I hadn't lit Mars Lighthouse, you would have been dead for real! You know all that, damn it."

"You've disarmed me," Karst observed dryly. "Well done - I hadn't expected that. What now? Do you cut me open with that sword of yours before I get another chance?"

He looked at her for a moment and then, with a laugh, unbuckled his sword belt and tossed the weapon aside. It landed beside the discarded scythe. "There, no more weapons. Now we'll just have to talk to each other."

"Talk? Is that what you came here for? How boring." She folded her arms. "You've said all you have to say, and you're right about it all. But I'm still angry with you." A deep smirk came over her face. "Oh, but don't worry... you can keep coming here to deliver exotic trinkets, mend the roof, chop up firewood, smooth out the terrain in the yard, and escort me to little events. I don't mind. You make a very good slave." She reached over to pat his cheek.

Felix stared at her, aghast. How... how dare she use me like that... After I forgave her for betraying me, after I lit Mars Lighthouse for her, how DARE she! He wanted to punch that smirk right off her smug face. No, better yet, he'd use his power and summon spikes of earth from the ground. See her try to mock him while impaled on spikes of solid rock. He'd love to make her beg for his forgiveness. But...

"Poor dear," Karst laughed. She lightly drew her fingernail along his cheek, leaving a shallow cut in his skin. "Even knowing how much I despise you, you'll still do anything I want, won't you? Now do you understand... how pathetic your feelings are?"

"No. I don't." He took her hand away from his cheek and held it in both of his. "Do you know what I think? You're being inconsistent. One moment you're defensive, the next derisive, the next vengeful. I think you're trying too hard to hide what you really feel..."

He began softly caressing her palm, pleased that her hand felt so much warmer than it had at Mars Lighthouse. No, not just warm... it was hot. Burning with fierce Proxian life. She looked up at him timidly, uncertainly. She was unsettled by what he was doing now and had no idea what he would do next.

"I think you're feeling guilty, that after what you tried to do to me, I forgave you, and saved your life. Maybe the reason you're pushing me away with your anger, your derision, is because you think you don't deserve me."

"Quite full of yourself, aren't you, you presumptuous bastard?" She snatched her hand away. "A woman can have many reasons for refusing a man. Haven't you considered what I've told you many times - that I want this whole world to kneel before Prox, that I want every person in Weyard to cower before the Fire Clan? Will you really help me make that happen, even if it means killing your sister?" Felix was silent. "I thought so. We've been enemies from the moment we met, you poor, idealistic little boy. We will be enemies until we die. I'm thankful for this little interlude... it's been nice having someone treat me like a lady. But you're a bigger fool than I thought if you think this can go further."

It was Felix's turn to smirk. "You always talk big about Prox conquering the world, but we both know that's all a load of crap. You've never wanted to hurt innocent people. You're still just hiding your feelings. And I can prove it, right now."

Before Karst could react, he seized her and pulled her to him. His mouth closed over hers, and he kissed her with a year's worth of frustrated passion.

She tried to push him away at first, but without much force, and after a moment she melted. As he held her, he massaged her back with one hand and explored the bare skin of her waist with the other. Her legs went limp as she relied upon him for support. Her lips were hard as leather, but smooth and warm. Exploring her mouth, he reveled in the affectionate embrace of her tongue, the sweet taste of her saliva. She gripped his arm with one hand, the back of his head with the other, and pulled in closer, deepening their fierce kiss still further, making him even more aware of the wonderful curves of her body pressing against him. He felt dizzy from the onslaught of sensual delights: the intoxicating smell and feel of her, the taste of her mouth, the way she matched the ferocity of his kiss, as though they were caught in an oral war. For all his efforts, all his bravado, he had never truly believed that he could be with her like this.

Their mouths broke apart at last, leaving her gasping for breath. "I think I've proved my point," Felix said.

She looked up at him, breathless. Their mutual surrender was undeniable.

Until she pushed away from him, stepped back. "No," she said, her voice thick with regret. "You're still wrong."

"Karst -"

"I'll admit that I feel for you, but it's still no good for us to be together."

"Bullshit," he snapped, grabbing her arm. "I want it, and you want it. We've both fought this - fought each other - for too long."

"That's the point," she retorted, jerking her arm free. "I can't stop fighting, Felix. Every time I talk to anyone, I end up turning on them, like I want to attack them. Why do you think I'm always alone when you come here? Because no one but Agatio can stand to even be my friend. To be my lover... it would be quite painful for you, Felix."

"I'll take my chances." He stepped closer, gently took a lock of her ruby hair in his hand. "I told you when I came in, Karst, this time I'm not leaving until I get what I want."

"So if I tell you I love you... will you leave, then?"

He let his hand drop from her hair to her shoulder, running his fingers over her smooth pink scales, between the ridge of small spikes. His heart was pounding with love for her.

"No," he answered, bending down to kiss her neck. "I think I'm going to need... something a bit more solid than that, to prove that I really have what I want."

She put her arms to his shoulders, lightly panting with excitement. "You don't... know what you're getting into."

He took her in his arms, guided her back towards her bedroom, and lay her on the bed. "I'm willing to suffer whatever it is. You're worth it."

She gave him a smile that was more like a grimace. "Can't say I didn't warn you."

He took off his cloak first, so that he could enjoy the sight of her slowly removing her leggings. Her legs were smooth and long - for her height, anyway - and having never seen a Proxian's bare feet before, he was interested to note that nearly everything up through the ankle was covered with scales. The rest of her legs, however, were nothing but creamy pink skin.

She was wearing long sleeves over her arms, and she removed those while watching him take off his shirt. The shirt wasn't exactly the best fit, and it took a few moments of struggle to get it off. "Mmm," he heard Karst purring. "That's it... take it off... My, you are a nice slice of beefcake, aren't you?"

He chuckled. "Speak for yourself, you sultry wench."

That was the last coherent thing either of them said for a good while.


Afterwards, the two of them lay in each other's arms, looking into each other's eyes. Felix's body was covered with fresh cuts and bite marks, many of them impressively deep, but that didn't bother him. He could use Ply later on if they made him feel uncomfortable.

"What will you tell your family and friends?" she asked.

"The truth. If they can't handle me being with you, that's their problem."

"You say that now, but when the people you love turn on you..."

"Let's just enjoy this moment for now. We'll worry about that tomorrow."

"Fine by me."

Tomorrow. Yes, he promised himself, there will be many, many tomorrows for the two of us. I won't let her go now, no matter how painfully hot she burns in my hands.